In this month’s Turkish parliamentary elections, the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) won almost 50 percent of the popular vote, up from 46.5 in the previous elections. The success was thanks in part to Turkey’s strong performance under the conservative AKP; since 2002, Turkey’s economic growth has been behind only that of China and India. Still, the AKP fell short by three seats of retaining the supermajority -- control of 330 out of 550 parliamentary seats, which gives a single party the ability to amend the constitution -- that the party has enjoyed since 2002, when it first came to power. (Although the AKP increased its vote share this year, the secular, social democratic Republican Peoples Party [CHP] and Kurdish nationalist Peace and Democracy Party [BDP] registered higher gains, therefore stealing some AKP seats.) This is a positive development for Turkey’s fragile democracy, which has become dangerously polarized between the conservatives and the secular liberals. For the first time in nearly a decade, the AKP will be forced to seek consensus to govern, especially in regions where its electoral performance was weak: the country’s liberal Aegean coast, Thrace, and the middle-class neighborhoods of Istanbul and other large cities.
The new balance in Turkey’s government presents both historic challenges and historic opportunities. Since Turkey became a multiparty democracy in 1946, the country has never had a constitution crafted by civilians, instead making do with a series of charters developed by military-led parliaments. Recently, driven by almost a decade of economic and political development, majorities in both the liberal and conservative parties have come to support drafting a new constitution. The fate of such an effort depended on the outcome of the elections. If the AKP’s victory had been large enough, it could have gone it alone, creating a document that would have likely enshrined social conservatism. Since the vote was split, the drafting process will have to be more consensual.
This is very good news: Turkey’s first civilian constitution should
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