Professors Sabri Sayary, Sylvia Wing Onder and Faruk Tabak of the School of Foreign Service and Haldun Gulalp, a Woodrow Wilson Center visiting fellow from Turkey’s Bosphorus University discussed the latest election results in Turkey, in a roundtable discussion at McGhee Library last Tuesday. About 20 people were present for the discussion.

The Nov. 3 elections brought the Justice and Development Party, known by its Turkish acronym AKP, into power when it won 4.2 percent of the votes and 64 percent of the seats in the Turkish Parliament. The Republican People’s Party, CHP, won the remaining seats, leaving no space for the members of the old coalition government.

AKP leader Tayyip Erdogan, former mayor of Istanbul, was barred from running in the elections; however, he led his party’s election campaign. He will not be able to serve as the Prime inister. The European Union criticized the ban on Erdogan’s candidacy, according to a Nov. 2 CNN report.

At the beginning of the discussion, Sayari recalled the concerns about AKP’s Islamic identity and asked: “Is AKP different now?”

The answer appears complicated. AKP was founded in August 2001 by some of the former members of the Virtue Party. The Constitutional Court banned the Virtue Party, after the court found it “to have broken constitutional rules on anti-secular activity” as a CNN report dated July 3, 2001 reads.

Gulalp discussed the vote distribution between AKP and CHP. He said the class with a higher income has voted for CHP, while the “working-class” voted for AKP.

Gulalp said “de-Islamization” and Westernization of the higher class have been tied to modernization and liberal democracy in Turkey, but this is beginning to change. He said people may be modern and democratic and still retain their Muslim identity.

Onder said AKP and Erdogan are seemingly open to communication and cooperation with Western countries, especially with the European Union.

Tabak said AKP’s cooperative approach toward the EU was understandable, since the EU favors “freedom of expression.” He also said “partly restricted” circulation of labor would be beneficial for European countries whose populations are aging. He said, however, that Turkey’s membership in the EU within two years was implausible.

Tabak recalled The New York Times’s coverage of the elections, saying the results were a natural response to the recent economic crisis and shrinkage of the country. “Erdogan promised bread, meat and jobs to the people, which is probably harder to provide than religious salvation,” he said.

Tabak said AKP was planning to negotiate with IMF about agricultural subsidies. “If [the] IMF does not accept [agricultural subsidies], the mood [of Turkey] may change,” he said.

Tabak compared the results with the latest Brazilian election results. He said both countries were undergoing reformations for liberalization and privatization for a while, but the reformers, Sandoza in Brazil and Kemal Dervis in Turkey were “kicked out by shanty towns.” He said he was happy that the anger and hostility of poor people was delivered through democratic channels.

One of the discussion’s spectators pointed out that President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil and Tayyip Erdogan both made a switch from being “fundamentalist” to being “modest” as they approached the elections. He also said the Banking Reform in Turkey was a constructive step against corruption, but other problems like over employment are harder to solve. “You have to go against interests, and you might not be reelected,” he said.

Sayari referred to the party’s abbreviation, “AKP,” which means “white and pure” in Turkish. He said the name is symbolic of being “less corrupt” and new, and the party seemed like a new alternative to the voters who are tired of old politicians who are shadowed with rumors of corruption.

The Institute of Turkish Studies sponsored the discussion.

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