Since AKP’s unquestionable victory, Washington analysts have finally quit looking at the Turkish poll results and started to ask, how this all will shape Turkey’s future foreign policy? I recently attended an event at the Brookings Institution, where Turkish and American scholars presented their interpretations of post-election Turkey. The event brought together Panelists include Fuat Keyman of Sabancı University, Nonresident Senior Fellow Ömer Taşpınar, and Nuh Yılmaz of the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA), all leading experts in Turkish Affairs.
The discussion included some key problems Turks will face in the new AKP era, especially with the constitution being the first priority on the AKP Government’s agenda. Is Turkey in transition to a presidential system under the premiership of Prime Minister Erdogan? Will the new constitution represent the majority of the population? And what does the AKP victory mean for Turkish foreign policy and its Western allies? Here is what I observed from Keyman, Yilmaz and Taspinar.
The AKP ows its victory on June 12 elections to a growing economy and relative political stability, but not necessarily to Prime Minister Erdogan’s foreign policies and the role he foresees for Turkey; that isan independent player in the Middle East region and in global affairs. The recent election just sealed this vision of Turkish Prime Minister, yet it may not be safe to say Turkish voters considered only the foreign policy changes at the elections. The economic reforms and AKP’s strong economic initiatives brought about a third consecutive victory for Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his party. Omer Taspinar in his commentary stated; “I personally think that this is a very impressive victory for AKP, but perhaps because I’m more of an economic determinist, I really think the big story in Turkey is the economy and that people essentially do not vote when they go to the ballot box thinking about foreign policy.”
After the elections, the numbers and seats in the Parliament found new blood with newcomers such as an increase in women’s seats by up to 15 percent and more Kurds, despite recent problems with the candidacy of some members. Despite these positive developments, there are still questions about how democratic the new constitution can be, given that it will be written under a single-party rule, with a seat majority from the same background.
Nuh Yilmaz shared his opinions and emphasized on the need to re-discover Turkey’s role in the international arena. Yilmaz said, “Turkey wants to be recognized as an independent power and elections of 2011 now support this process by giving a 50 percent support to Erdogan and his party”. Keeping this prominent policy of Erdogan in mind, the AKP’s new ideologies are expected to shape under the light of independent policies. This new, Turkish policy will inevitably interfere with those of the U.S. due to Middle East’s ongoing social and political turmoil. Despite existing fears for Turkey shifting towards East, the expert opinions suggested that this perception will have to change to create healthy relationships with the new Turkey. According to Yilmaz, negative perceptions of Turkish foreign policy need to end. This is not a means to minimize the importance of these problems.
Fuat Keyman assured the attendees that the 2011 elections had historical success by happening without incidents, without corruption, without any suspicion about the results. Keyman went on to suggest that Turkey finally reached diversity in terms of religion, ethnicity, culture, gender; and Turkish voters acted responsibly for actively participating.
In the post-election Turkey, the secularists’ views remain the same, fearing an authoritarian regime. However there is no talk of military coups or interference, the Kurdish problem may soften via diplomatic talks in the parliament instead of PKK’s bloody attacks. The new constitution–if based on civil liberties and equality while protecting Turkey’s secular identity may be a turning point for Turkey’s future. I certainly wish the same reforms for liberalizing media and tolerance for the voice of opposition, which AKP lacks most.