After its stunning triumph, Erdogan appeared conciliatory, and talked not only about democratization but of secular values and togetherness, and of continuing the drive to full EU membership.
He did not respond to calls from the party faithful that the next president should be foreign minister Abdullah Gul, a former Islamist whose candidacy pushed by the party failed earlier to win the required majority in the face of opposition from secular parties, much of civil society, and the powerful military. The failure to elect a president led to elections three months ahead of schedule.
"The party won big," Jerome Bastion, an Istanbul-based French analyst of Turkish politics told IPS. "But if it wants to move on governing, it may have to go for a different candidate acceptable to the entire society, not just the party grassroots."
One objection to Gul's candidacy from the secularists has been that his wife wears the Islamic headscarf, banned in public places.
The number of women members has increased from 24 to 50. But no woman can wear a headscarf in Parliament. One who tried ten years ago was thrown out of Parliament, and never returned.
Gul's ascendancy to the presidential Pink Palace on the hills of Ankara would make his wife a First Lady hosting guests wearing an Islamic headscarf, a privilege not allowed so far even to guests at the palace since Turkey became a republic in 1923.
Both Erdogan and Gul come from a banned Islamist Party. They cruised to a surprising victory in the first electoral test in 2002, and now to their landslide victory.
Their central platform is to stress economic growth. The economy is growing at 7 percent a year, the highest in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a grouping of 30 rich nations. Under Erdogan, inflation is down from more than 50 percent to single digit.
"The business world wants stability," Mehmet Ali Babaoglu, an enterpreneur and former board member of the main Industry and Business Association told IPS. "They have been good for business including privatization, attracting foreign investment, and their drive towardss EU."
But the past of the party still haunts some, including the military, entrusted by the Constitution with safeguarding the republic against external and internal threats, and upholding the secular regime.
In what has been called an "e-coup," the military found Gul unacceptable as president in a midnight announcement on its website a few hours after nominations by the party. He then failed to gain enough votes to become president.
Now, almost half the Turks have voted for the AKP. The armed forces, which have intervened in overturning governments four times since 1960, had no comment on election results.
For the time in 15 years, Kurdish activists have representation in Parliament. In the past, although they got substantial votes, they never made their way to Parliament because their party never cleared the 10 percent barrier. This time they disbanded the party and ran as independents.
Kurdish leader Ahmet Turk declared after the results that the Kurdish deputies will attempt to solve the problems over the Kurd population (close to 20 percent of 70 million) by peaceful means. Turkey is beset by growing demands for Kurdish identity. Kurds say they want cultural rights, while nationalist Turks suspect they want increased autonomy on the road to independence.
As a backlash among Turks, the extreme right MHK upped its vote from eight to 14 percent in what is considered polarization.
Also on the cards in line with such right-wing demands is a possible Turkish military incursion into northern Iraq to wipe out Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) insurgents slipping into Turkey. They have been held responsible for terrorist attacks in cities, and on the military.
The position to be taken by independent Kurdish deputies in Parliament is seen as crucial. In the past, when elected Kurdish activists deputies spoke some words in Kurdish while taking the oath of office, they were tried and jailed for ten years.
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Albion Monitor July
23, 2007 (http://www.albionmonitor.com)
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