Erdogan says world must respect Turkish election result


A jubilant President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Monday cast the return of Turkey to single-party rule as a vote for stability that the world must respect, but opponents fear it heralds growing authoritarianism and deeper polarization.

The AK Party, whose roots are in political Islam, defied pollsters and even the expectations of its own strategists in a general election on Sunday, consolidating support from the right to claw back a parliamentary majority that will bolster Erdogan's grip on power. 

It was a personal triumph for the combative leader, who despite being constitutionally above party politics as head of state had shaped the AKP's executive committee and its parliamentary candidates in the run-up to the vote.

The result handed the AKP 317 of the 550 seats in parliament, only 13 short of the number Erdogan would need for a national referendum on constitutional changes he wants to forge a presidential system granting him full executive powers.

“The national will manifested itself on Nov. 1 in favour of stability,” Erdogan said in comments to reporters after praying at a mosque in Istanbul. 

“Let's be as one, be brothers and all be Turkey together.”

The vote came at a critical time for Turkey on the global stage, with the United States dependent on Turkish air bases in the fight against Islamic State in Syria, and the European Union desperate for Turkish help with its growing migration crisis.

Erdogan's victory, two weeks ahead of a G20 leaders' summit in Turkey, leaves Western allies dealing with an emboldened leader they may already know, but whose cooperation has not always been easy to secure.

Financial markets rallied, with the lira currency on track for its biggest one-day gain in seven years and stocks up 5 percent, relieved that uncertainty from an election cycle stretching back almost two years had finally ended.

But the result left the 50 percent of Turks who did not vote AKP in shock: from liberal secularists suspicious of Erdogan's Islamist ideals to left-leaning Kurds who blame the government for resurgent violence in the largely Kurdish southeast.

Since nationwide anti-government protests and a corruption scandal around Erdogan's inner circle in 2013, his opponents had lived in the hope that the power of modern Turkey's most divisive leader was finally on the wane.

“Back to Square One” said the headline on Today's Zaman, a newspaper critical of the AKP, casting the outcome as a result of a divisive and fiercely nationalist campaign.

Washington said it was deeply concerned that media outlets and journalists were subject to pressure during the campaign.

Amid reports that journalists were pressured in order to weaken political opposition, spokesman Josh Earnest said the White House had urged Turkish authorities to uphold the values of its constitution.

GREEN LIGHT FOR GREATER POWER

Erdogan won Turkey's first popular presidential election in August 2014 after more than a decade as prime minister and immediately vowed to use his mandate to strengthen what had been a largely ceremonial post appointed by parliament.

Even without constitutional change, he wasted little time flexing his political muscle, hosting cabinet meetings in his new 1,000-room Ankara palace and surrounding himself with powerful advisors in what effectively became a “shadow cabinet”.

His opponents hoped that the loss of the AKP's majority in a June 7 election, raising the prospect of coalition government, would put a stop to such overreach of his powers. But Sunday's result has put his ambitions firmly back on track.

“The view that the June 7 elections were a 'no' to the executive presidency has been collapsed,” said Mustafa Sentop, a senior AKP official who previously spearheaded the party's efforts at constitutional reform.

“The numbers are not enough at the moment, but I think these elections show a desire for the presidential system to be instilled. It could be seen as a green or yellow light for the presidency,” he told Reuters.

It remained to be seen whether the additional 13 parliamentary votes needed to support a referendum could be found, but it was an ambition on which the AKP would “definitely not give up”, he said.

In the meantime, a source in the presidency said, the cabinet would continue to meet in the palace “from time to time” suggesting no let-up in Erdogan's influence on daily affairs.

Erdogan has consistently portrayed criticism of his leadership as part of a foreign-backed effort to belittle him and undermine Turkey's influence in the region.

“Now a party with some 50 percent in Turkey has attained power … This should be respected by the whole world, but I have not seen such maturity,” he said on Monday, criticising global media coverage of the election.

DEEPER POLARISATION

The rise in AKP support on Sunday appeared to have been motivated by renewed fighting between the security forces and Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants in the predominantly Kurdish southeast since a ceasefire collapsed in July.

Right-wing voters supportive of the renewed military campaign abandoned the nationalist MHP, while conservative Kurds and liberal Turks who blame the PKK for the unrest turned their back on the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP).

“The recent sense of instability in Turkey, coupled with Erdogan's “strong man who can protect you” strategy seems to have worked. This is a victory for both Erdogan and for the PKK,” said Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program at The Washington Institute.

“Erdogan has managed to consolidate much of the political right,” he said in an email.

But in doing so he has also further alienated opponents.

The HDP, which is set to control 59 seats in parliament, accused Erdogan on Sunday of a deliberate strategy of polarisation to stir up nationalist support. Erdogan meanwhile said the election outcome was a message to the PKK and its allies that violence could not coexist with democracy.

Analysts are divided on whether an emboldened Erdogan will now seek to push an even harder military strategy in the southeast, or whether he will return to a peace process with the PKK he initiated two and a half years ago.

“It must continue, but with a new understanding,” said one senior AKP official familiar with the peace process, adding that, in line with Erdogan's majoritarian view of democracy, the HDP's role as mediator would from now on be limited.

“That role is finished. The most they can be is one of the actors.”

Lessons for Brotherhood and why Turkey is still the model for Egypt


Let me start by saying that Turkey needs to believe that the right thing to do is to act together with Israel, and that it must embrace the language of friendship. If Turkey is allied with Israel, the scourges raining down on the region would be resolved in a short period of time. The bloodshed in Syria, the turmoil in Egpt and the general downward spiral would not be continuing in this way for long. The region is devoid of an alliance of democratic, secular and reasonable power houses. So I urge Turkey to resolve the Mavi Marmara crisis rather than prolonging the issue at such a tense time and establish a solid friendship and alliance with Israel right away. While Israel is surrounded by countries demanding its annihilation and promoting the most ruthless anti-Jewish propaganda, it is an absolute necessity for Turkey to show the true spirit of Islam with regards to Jews and Christians, and be a true role model for the Islamic-majority countries in the region.

Just like Egypt, the military was a powerful political player in Turkey and had been the most trustworthy institution, and their engagement had always found support among many, so the July 3rd coup in Egypt is a familiar scene for the Turks. Seeing how similar the rhetoric is, it felt as if Chief of Staff Kenan Evren’s long-ago speech was echoing in Egypt: “We want to prevent a civil war, and we are only interfering to stop clashes between the left and the right.”

Turkey suffered for a long time by having two heads, civilian and military, in the legal system but it has since opened the way in firmly establishing civilian jurisdiction over crimes committed by military personnel since 2009. And now Turkey is about to make another step towards democratization: The Turkish government only a few weeks ago proposed a set of changes to the constitution to eliminate the possibility of the military getting involved in domestic affairs; in other words, this will remove the threat of a future junta. Since 1934 the Turkish military was responsible for “protecting” the Turkish Republic from threats within and abroad. If the change in Article 35 is approved, the military’s responsibility will be limited strictly to threats from abroad.

Considering four coups since 1950 and what the last bloody 1980 coup had brought (650,000 arrests, 50 executions, 171 deaths by torture, tens of thousands of citizens forced to flee abroad,) Turks have had enough. However, democratisation has neither been an easy nor a quick process but it definitely needed uncompromising resoluteness.

Since divisive language has become dominant, the demonizing of the “other” side has become commonplace and since trust has been lost between the political camps in Egypt, a third party — like Turkey — can indeed play a role to facilitate reconciliation. It is not just about Turkey’s experience with coups and democratization efforts but it is about how an Islamic-based party can have a place as a three-time elected government within the democratic arena. Yes, there are serious demands from the Turkish government for a more inclusive style where everyone feels free to express their demands, and they certainly have their critics and so on; and all of this will hopefully progress. Yet despite the recent protests against the AKP government, the model in Turkey can still be a stepping stone for Muslim majority countries like Egypt.

However, since Egypt is going through a historic reform from a dictatorship to democracy, this should be done with a broad-based consultative system made up of all parties, including and reflecting all points of view. Obviously there has to be compromise from all sides for the sake of harmony and unity of Egypt.

The Brotherhood and its political branch, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), however, have many lessons to learn and they indeed have to change themselves a lot. The failure of President Mohamed Morsi was in neglecting very crucial values that have been ignored by almost the whole Muslim world as well. What we have seen in general was a dead, corrupt, bigoted system being espoused and imposed; however, their new goal should be to emphasize the importance of modern, extroverted, loving people and embracing a style that advocates art and science. People are invariably happier with cleanliness, with art, with green spaces, and they seek out music, sculpture, painting, aesthetic architecture and beauty.

Now that this unwanted scenario has happened, the leaders of the Brotherhood should be pioneers for a reform towards a modern understanding of Islam and take a stance against bigotry. They should embrace Jews and Christians in front of cameras; in their speeches they should embrace all people from all walks of life including communists, atheists, etc. They should express the beauties of freedoms, and provide a comfortable atmosphere even for the most vocal critics.

Another crucial emphasis should be for the rights and freedoms of women. They should show their love and respect for women, and bring them to the front, regardless of their style of dress. They should embrace a secular model, as in Turkey, accepting all as equal and first class citizens, and providing religious freedom for all. The Brotherhood being in close coordination with Turkey would be an advantageous way for them to make fast progress.

Finally, the Brotherhood should embrace a policy that will comfort the Israelis and the ones who hold it dear to themselves and they should scrupulously avoid things that could raise tensions. They have to end the anti-Israel rhetoric and show their compassion for Jews and Christians, as a requirement of their belief as well. In point of simple fact, they should not be enemies with anyone, not even with their opponents: This is essential to silence the guns, and to end the division even if it is a one-sided effort. From now on, they should focus on solutions.

I am aware that this is far from what the Brotherhood stands for at the moment, but there could be significant developments through intense educational programs via television and social programs designed to change the fanatical mindset in its administration and social structure, and replace it with a far more inclusive approach. 


Sinem Tezyapar is an Executive Producer at a Turkish TV. She is a political and religious commentator, peace activist and is the spokesperson of a prominent international interfaith organization, as well as its coordinator for international relations with political and religious leaders. She is working with interparlimentary and non governmental organizations for the establishment of the United Nations Permanent Forum for a Culture of Peace and Global Ethics. She can be reached via @SinemTezyapar

Gezi Park rebuilds, digs in for more clashes


This story originally appeared on themedialine.org.

By nightfall the Gezi Park protesters had cleaned up the trampled tents and trash left behind from crowds fleeing police during clashes in adjacent Taksim Square.

Thousands joined together again in song as a local musician played the piano, vendors were back selling cheap protective masks against tear gas and smoke from grilled meat filled the air.

But it was a very different atmosphere from previous long nights of demonstrations – the dark sky was empty of the hundreds of rising red glowing Chinese lanterns that symbolized hope, police water cannons were trained on Gezi Park protesters waiting for any flare ups and several hundred riot police stood ready behind a wall of plexiglass shields just feet away in Taksim Square.

Protest leaders said they will not let police and government officials pressure them into leaving, despite new calls Wednesday by Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to clear out the park—which has become the last stronghold for anti-government demonstrators.

“We are staying here while we wait for police,” protest leader Nail Ocal told The Media Line. “It will continue. There is no limit.”

But Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is determined to end the protests that have spread across his country, including to his doorstep in the capital of Ankara.

Turkish media reported Erdogan has instructed his interior minister to quickly end the protests in Gezi Park.

It may be easy for authorities to clear out the park with tear gas and stun grenades, but protesters say the call for change has become too large to dampen.

The movement has grown to include more than just college students and artists, entertainers and doctors in dozens of cities and villages have joined the ranks of the protestors.

Earlier this week, thousands of lawyers dressed in black robes stormed out of Istanbul's main courthouse protesting the arrest of their colleagues in a similar demonstration just the day before.

Gezi Park protesters told The Media Line they expect demonstrations to continue, despite any anticipated police action against them.

“People have put their lives on the line for this,” 60-year-old Sibel Bulay told The Media Line. “So you can't just say: 'we're tired, let's go.'”

While many political groups opposed to the government have called on members to join the protests, there is no clear leader.

However, there may be one demand, according to Bulay.

“Ultimately, what people want is to have a say in how we're being governed. And the biggest thing is: don't tell me how to live my life.”

Protesters said they will not leave until they see some element of change in how their government operates.

Of course, many are still demanding an end to plans for development of Gezi Park. It was those government plans that sparked the demonstrations more than two weeks ago.

In what may be viewed as an “olive branch,” the AKP has said it will consider holding a referendum on the future of the park.

But one protester, who this reporter first met while the middle-aged man was dodging a police water cannon and shielding himself from clouds of tear gas earlier this week, told The Media Line the protests are not about Gezi.

“People just want freedom here, because the government is pushing laws against the people,” said the man who refused to give his name.

A law banning advertising of alcohol, and its sale during certain hours, is among the concerns of protesters. Proposed changes to the constitution and restrictions on the freedom of the press also remain worrisome. 

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