The big win by Turkey’s governing party in last Sunday’s polls is anything but a Trojan horse for Islam in the country, unlike what some observers seem to fear. The Justice and Development Party (AKP), led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, won nearly half the vote — an increase of 13 percentage points on the AKP’s victory in 2002 and the highest vote that any party has recorded in 50 years. But for the pro-Western AKP, this is still short of a two-thirds majority in Parliament. Which makes it doubtful if Mr Erdogan could push through much-needed reforms that would qualify Turkey for European Union (EU) membership.
The AKP’s return to power seems to have come at a cost: a drop in its share of seats to 340 out of 550 . Nevertheless, this victory can be read as a personal triumph for Mr Erdogan, who called the poll early after the army-backed secular elite blocked his choice of Foreign Minister, Abdullah Gul, as Turkey’s next president. The military was alarmed that Mr Gul’s wife wears a headscarf, which is considered an unacceptable symbol of Islam’s inroads into the secular State. The mandate also gives the AKP an insurance policy against coups, dramatically reducing the power of the military and the secular elite. For a party known more for its Islamist roots, the AKP increasingly looks like a federation of Centre-Right forces that happens to include an Islamist minority. And even if some radicals still want to introduce the shariat, most Islamists nowadays are keen on having more freedom, not less.
In fact, going by the AKP’s electoral promises, constitutional freedoms will be broadened to EU standards. This is a good thing to happen in a country where some of the laws are anything but liberal. The AKP’s poll win is all the more significant, given the party’s focus on globalisation and social justice that could make Turkey a model State for modern, progressive Islam in a troubled world.