On bal­ance, Turkey elec­tion re­sults are re­as­sur­ing

The China Post - - COMMENTARY - ARTHUR I. CYR

Turkey’s elec­torate has voted f or democ­racy and the rule of law over in­cip­i­ent dic­ta­tor­ship, a most pos­i­tive devel­op­ment. In June 7 par­lia­men­tary elec­tions, the Is­lamist Jus­tice and Devel­op­ment Party (AKP) was aban­doned by many vot­ers. The rul­ing party won the largest bloc of seats in par­lia­ment, but lost the ma­jor­ity.

Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan has be­come in­creas­ingly con­tro­ver­sial. Thanks to party-im­posed term lim­its, the long­time prime min­is­ter moved to the largely cer­e­mo­nial post of pres­i­dent. Ag­gres­sive moves to strengthen the of­fice have sparked a sig­nif­i­cant back­lash.

The Peo­ples’ Demo­cratic Party (HDP), di­rectly rep­re­sent­ing the Kurd pop­u­la­tion, broke through to win 80 leg­isla­tive seats. Pre­vi­ously, Kurds have run for par­lia­ment on in­de­pen­dent lists. Kur­dish sep­a­ratism is a con­tin­u­ing source of fric­tion in Turkey.

The AKP, strongly rooted in the reli­gion of Is­lam, has gov­erned Turkey since 2002. This has com­pli­cated re­la­tions with the U.S. and Europe, but the al­liance has sur­vived. Last year, Am­bas­sador Is­mail Ara­maz of Turkey was named se­nior NATO civil­ian rep­re­sen­ta­tive in Afghanistan.

Ob­servers in Europe and the U.S. have fo­cused on signs of Is­lamic ex­trem­ism in Turkey. Ter­ror­ist ef­forts in Europe since 9/11 have re­in­forced such anx­i­ety.

Turkey’s rel­a­tive iso­la­tion within Europe adds to con­cern. The Euro­pean Union has turned the na­tion’s ap­pli­ca­tion for membership into an or­deal. No doubt con­cern about Is­lamic ex­trem­ism con­trib­utes to cau­tion.

In fact, Turk­ish de­vel­op­ments in im­por­tant re­spects have been re­as­sur­ing. The lat­est elec­tion con­firms com­mit­ment to rep­re­sen­ta­tive gov­ern­ment. To date, ter­ror­ist strikes in the coun­try have boomeranged, with con­sid­er­able hos­til­ity to­ward per­pe­tra­tors of th­ese crim­i­nal acts.

There is anx­i­ety about do­mes­tic mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion, but the AKP has op­er­ated care­fully to avoid takeover by the gen­er­als. To be sure, ten­sions and some se­ri­ous con­tro­ver­sies have arisen with the mil­i­tary, but so far co­ex­is­tence has con­tin­ued. There has been no re­peat of the mil­i­tary takeovers of ear­lier pe­ri­ods. The mil­i­tary over­all is more re­stricted.

Since the revo­lu­tion in the 1920s led by Mustafa Ke­mal Ataturk, Turkey has been con­sti­tu­tion­ally strictly secular. The army serves as watch­dog to keep reli­gion at bay. Four times in the past half-cen­tury, the gen­er­als have acted. Past mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion at times was bloody.

Turkey’s geostrate­gic im­por­tance should be over­rid­ing for pol­i­cy­mak­ers in the U.S. and other na­tions. Turkey com­mands sea and land routes, in­clud­ing the Strait of Bosporus, for ship­ping oil, gas and other im­por­tant com­modi­ties. Gov­ern­ments in Ankara have in the past worked ef­fec­tively with Is­rael, and cur­rent strains com­bine with some hope­ful de­vel­op­ments.

Ankara- Wash­ing­ton co­op­er­a­tion is strongly rooted. Turkey has been ac­tively en­gaged in Afghanistan through­out the U.N. and NATO oc­cu­pa­tion. Dur­ing the first Gulf War, U.S. B-52 bombers were de­ployed on Turk­ish soil, a po­ten­tially risky move by Ankara. Turkey played a vi­tal Al­lied role dur­ing the Korean War; the U.N. mil­i­tary ceme­tery at Pu­san con­tains a large num­ber of Turk­ish graves.

Ger­many and Turkey are tradi- tional al­lies. To­day, en­cour­ag­ing part­ner­ship makes sense. Ger­many’s in­flu­ence steadily grows in not only Europe but also Rus­sia and Cen­tral Asia. That is a great plus for re­gional and in­ter­na­tional sta­bil­ity.

The rise of IS and con­tin­u­ing Syria civil war add to Turkey’s piv­otal roles. Syr­ian refugees stream­ing into Turkey have pro­vided a ma­jor chal­lenge, over­all han­dled hu­manely by Ankara.

Turkey’s elec­tion re­sults mean a pe­riod of jock­ey­ing among the po­lit­i­cal par­ties for a new gov­ern­ing coali­tion. There may also be an­other elec­tion soon. That adds to short-term un­cer­tainty but longterm sta­bil­ity. Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Dis­tin­guished Pro­fes­sor at Carthage Col­lege and au­thor of “Af­ter the Cold War” (NYU Press and Pal­grave/Macmil­lan). He can be reached at acyr@carthage.edu

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