Turkey prez Erdogan must use victory to unite deeply divided country

  • Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Nov 03, 2015 07:26 IST
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan smiles as he leaves from Eyup Sultan mosque in Istanbul. (Reuters Photo)

In what came as a surprise for many political observers, the Right-wing Islamist Justice and Development party (AKP) won the Turkish parliamentary elections held on Sunday. With about 316 seats in the 550-seat Grand National Assembly, the AKP has regained the majority it lost in the June elections. The party has, however, fallen short of the two-thirds majority required to call for a referendum to change the constitution to increase the powers of the President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that AKP’s victory was a “victory for our democracy and our people”, but the Opposition fears it will lead to further political polarisation and embolden the government to come down heavily on free speech. Clearly, one of the major tasks for

Mr Erdogan will be to win the trust of his political opponents.

The bigger job is to tackle the threat of terrorism that Turkey faces. Ankara’s half-hearted approach towards the Islamic State has allowed the group to spread in the country.

The October 10 twin bombings at Ankara Central Railway station are proof of this. Black Saturday, as the attacks have come to be known, has split public opinion and polarised the political debate in Turkey. While the Opposition has blamed the government for the attacks, with the Peoples’ Democratic party (HDP) even accusing the government of being complicit, Ankara has pointed fingers to a terror cocktail involving the Kurds and a ‘Parallel State’ working to overthrow the government.

The election results, however, bring hope as a hung parliament would have meant further political uncertainty, eventually leading to economic uncertainties and instability. The results come barely a fortnight before Turkey is scheduled to hold the G20 Summit in Antalya, and give Mr Davutoglu greater authority to go ahead with reforms.

The AKP’s victory gives Mr Erdogan more political power, which he must use to unite a country deeply divided along political and sectarian lines, revive the economy, address a growing migrant crisis, and neutralise terrorist threats. Turkey’s economy has slowed in recent years, with ratings agency Moody’s recently saying that Ankara ‘still has to battle low growth, high inflation and volatile capital flows’.

If Mr Erdogan is trying to reinforce his position as a statesman second only to Turkey’s founder Kemal Ataturk, this is his chance. He needs to grab it, and take the whole country along with him.

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