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11/7/02 - TURKEY'S VIBRANT DEMOCRACY - 2002-11-07

On November 3rd, the people of Turkey voiced their wishes in an election befitting Turkey’s vibrant democracy. The Turks voted out three coalition parties that have held office in recent years.

Turkish voters gave about thirty-four percent of the vote to the Justice and Development Party, or A-K-P, which has been in existence for about a year. Voters gave nineteen percent to the Republican People’s Party, the only other party to reach the minimum needed to gain representation in the parliament. As a result, the A-K-P will fill close to two-thirds of the parliamentary seats, and the Republican People’s Party and a small number of independents will fill the rest.

As U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said, the conduct of the election shows “the vibrancy of Turkey’s democracy.” The United States, said Mr. Boucher, looks forward “to working closely and constructively with the new government.”

The A-K-P is led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan [reh-JEHP tie-YIHP ERR-dough-ahn], former mayor of Istanbul. The A-K-P has its roots in a previous Islamist party, and this has raised some concerns in Turkey. Even though most Turks are Muslims, Turkey has a long tradition of secularism. But Mr. Erdogan has assured voters that the A-K-P is modeled after the Christian Democratic parties of Europe. Despite their name, these European parties are completely secular in their politics. Mr. Erdogan said the A-K-P does not seek to combine state and religion.

Mr. Erdogan also expressed strong support for Turkish membership in the European Union. The Republican People’s Party has done likewise. Leaders of the A-K-P have urged E-U leaders to move quickly in considering membership for Turkey. The U.S. strongly supports Turkey’s aspirations to join the E-U. It is clearly in the strategic interest of the U.S. and Europe that Turkey gain E-U membership.

For Americans and Europeans alike, Turkey was a staunch ally throughout the Cold War. Now, Turkey is a valued partner in the coalition against international terrorism. And Turkey’s progressive Islamic culture can be a positive example for Muslims around the world.