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Erdogan's election victory reveals Turkey's faultlines
THE GENERAL election in Turkey took place on 22 July and, as expected, the ruling AKP (Justice and Development Party) was returned to power with 47% of the popular vote compared to the 20% for the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP). Many capitalist commentators are saying that the result of these elections will determine the country's future for the next decade and while this is probably an exaggeration, the vote will undoubtedly be of great significance.
AKP increased its share of the vote from 34% in 2002, but because of the strong showing by the ultra-nationalist National Movement Party (MHP), previously unrepresented in parliament, it was deprived of the two-thirds majority needed to change the constitution. This will leave the impasse over the presidency unresolved.
Despite the relative economic stability, Turkey has been through a severe political crisis over the abortive presidential elections in May 2007. The Supreme Court ruled the second round of elections invalid because of a low turnout. In fact, this ruling followed an implied threat of a coup on the part of the powerful military elite should the AKP candidate Abdullah Gul win.
Gul, the nominee of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and currently Foreign Minister, was opposed by military chiefs because of his past as a radical Islamist. The military sees itself as the defender of Turkey's strictly secular constitution on which its wealth, power and privileges ultimately rest. Military chiefs would feel their position under threat if an openly Islamic candidate won the presidency, especially as the president is responsible for appointing the heads of the armed forces.
But many Turks, particularly those in urban areas, are equally wary of a 'creeping Islamisation' of the Turkish state - as shown by the millions who came out onto the streets to protest against Gul's candidacy. But neither would they welcome the army intervening. "No Sharia, no coup" was one of the slogans of the mass demonstrations.
Turkey's workers know well what the consequences for them would be of a new period of direct military rule. While the army portrays its defence of secularism as modern and progressive, its repression would also be aimed at the organisations of the working class.
The political posturing of the two main parties over the constitution is the public face of a struggle for dominance between rival factions of the capitalist class. The military/secular wing, having lost ground in recent years attempted to reassert its authority by using popular unease at the 'Islamist ascendancy' to promote its own political representatives in the opposition CHP.
In an attempt to allay these fears, the AKP had taken steps prior to the election to distance itself from its own past and instead pose as a mildly religious party by purging its parliamentary lists of about 150 of its more conservative religious MPs. These have been replaced with a new layer of technocrats, former city traders and representatives of business.
These measures are also aimed at reassuring the European political leaders that Turkey is still fit for eventual EU membership. This is almost certainly ruled out for the foreseeable future as most existing member governments would oppose the entry of a potentially unstable state whose population is mainly Muslim.
Nevertheless, Erdogan will use the election victory to continue the adoption of more EU-friendly policies in the hope of reopening accession negotiations later.
Last week's election victory is likely to be the start of new problems for the government. The economic upswing, which has masked the underlying weakness of a semi-feudal economy is unlikely to last much longer. Turkey will struggle to service its enormous foreign debt without serious cuts in spending which will fall mainly on the shoulders of workers and the poor, both rural and urban.
There are also enormous foreign policy problems looming, not least on the inter-related question of the Kurdish separatist struggle and the crisis in neighbouring Iraq.
There has been renewed fighting in recent weeks between guerrilla fighters of the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK) and Turkish army units. There has also been a threat by Turkey of cross-border incursions into northern Iraq to deal with PKK fighters based there. Turkey's ruling class fears the possible fracturing of the Iraqi state and the emergence of an independent Kurdish state on its border. All factions of Turkey's ruling class are fiercely opposed to such a state.
The AKP have been accused of being 'soft' on the Kurdish question, and consequently they responded by increasing troop numbers on the border and shelling hillside villages where it claims 4,000 PKK rebels are hiding out.
As a member of NATO, Turkey has been supportive of US policy in Iraq, but would be totally opposed to the formation of a Kurdish state. The new government is seeking urgent talks with the US and Iraqi governments to persuade them to take more decisive measures against the PKK.
Domestically, the government will pursue its neo-liberal agenda, as agreed in the 2002 settlement with the International Monetary Fund and will meet with little parliamentary opposition on this score. Constitutionally it will continue its current balancing act. Because of the huge popular vote for the CHP, it is unlikely the military will feel confident to intervene at this stage, but will adopt a wait and see strategy while issuing warning sounds from the wings.
The working class need to prepare its own response to a new neo-liberal offensive. Recently, 11,000 Turkish Airlines staff voted for indefinite strike action in a pay dispute. Other sections of workers could follow suit. But Turkish workers also need to go on the political offensive by forging their own party to combat the attacks on their rights and living standards, on which the existing parties, both religious and secular are unanimous.
Economic revival bypasses majority
WITH THE economy booming, the AKP stood on its record of economic success and promises of longer term prosperity. Turkey's capitalist class seemed to approve of a continuation of AKP rule, with the stock market immediately recording a big surge in prices.
Gross Domestic Product (the total value of goods and services produced) shows an annual growth rate of 6.8% for the first quarter of 2007, exceeding the 5.8% predicted by most analysts.
Some of this growth may be down to an increase in government spending, effectively a pre-election bribe to the voters, but there has also been a strong performance in exports.
This follows a five-year boom in which the economy grew by a 7% average.
The economic crisis of 2001 which provoked huge anti-government protests, food riots and devaluation of the currency, appears to have been overcome, at least temporarily. It was this crisis which led to the election of the AKP in 2002.
While most of the population will have benefited from lower inflation and unemployment, the free market policies pursued by PM Recip Erdogan has meant that the alleged prosperity has passed wide sections of Turkish society by, despite the AKP posing as a party of the poor and dispossessed.
In fact there is little to separate the economic policies of the three main parties now represented in the Turkish parliament.
In The Socialist 26 July 2007:
Postal workers' strike
Socialist Party NHS campaign
Socialist Party news and analysis
Tales from the council chambers
Socialist Party Marxist analysis
Socialist Party reviews
Workplace news and analysis
International socialist news and analysis