Turkey’s EU Prospects & June’s Elections

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All eyes are fixed on Turkey’s prime minister as he seeks a record third absolute majority. Insight from Political Tours’ staff.Monday April 4, 2011

With eight years already in office Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, looks set to win another victory in parliamentary elections this June. What he does thereafter is likely to have a decisive impact on the country’s bid for EU membership.

Political Tours analysts Ekrem Eddy Güzeldere and Piotr Zalewski will be assessing the key issues in the run up to the polls during a week-long tour, starting on May 29 in Istanbul. They will focus in part on the increasingly authoritarian steps taken by the government over the last year and a half, as well as its much vaunted promises of constitutional reform without which European Union membership is highly unlikely.

“The election is key as far as the EU process is concerned,” says Güzeldere, who is also an analyst for the European Stability Initiative, a think tank that is studying Turkey’s EU membership bid.

Potential Reforms

With a renewed majority, Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party or AKP would have the power to reform the constitution, and further curb some of the state’s substantial powers, measures that are required by the European Union’s accession process. A new democratic constitution might also be Turkey’s best chance to resolve its age-old Kurdish problem. But recent events have alarmed both critics in and out of Turkey.

In March thousands of protestors took to the streets in Ankara and Istanbul to protest against the detention of a group of journalists. The arrests were part of an investigation into an alleged conspiracy to overthrow the government. Critics suggest the Islamic-inspired government is exaggerating the threat in order to wage a battle against its opponents. Investigations into the alleged plot known as the Ergenekon conspiracy have now been going on for four years.

This has left many questioning Erdogan’s democratic credentials.

“The question is what kind of constitutional change will there be?” Güzeldere asks, looking beyond the elections. “Will it have the sole purpose of entrenching the AKP in power, or will the party address the call for a more liberal democracy?”

He suggests that the size of the AKP’s expected majority might boost, and not undermine the reform process.

“If the AKP gets something like 47 per cent again they would be in a strong position to repeat their earlier reform phase that started in 2003, but then petered out. Significant constitutional change will depend on co-operation with opposition parties,” he says.

The size of opposition parties will therefore play a substantial role. “How many votes will the leading opposition party, the CHP, win under a new charismatic leader? Will the right wing MHP party get knocked out of parliament? Will the Kurdish party get more seats? This will all influence the reform process.”

Gü>zeldere’s fellow analyst on the Political Tours’ pre-election study visit, Piotr Zalewski, says that while the polls suggest that the AKP will get a significant lead, the distribution of seats between the three main opposition parties may well change.

“It depends on a lot of things such as the list of final candidates and the continued Ergenekon arrests,” says Zalewski who is also a correspondent with the bestselling Polish newsmagazine, Polityka, “There are so many dynamics still at play.”

This is the first in a series of short features on Turkey’s June 12 elections. If you would like to speak to either Ekrem Guzeldere or Piotr Zalewski, please contact us at [email protected].

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