Turkey, Orhan Pamuk, Pamuk
Associated Press
Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses the media at the headquarters of his
Justice and Development Party, the AKP, in Ankara, Turkey.

Islamist-Leaning Party Prevails in Turkish Municipal Elections

March 30, 2009 12:00 PM
by Anne Szustek
Despite criticism over handling of the economy and allegations of an anti-secular agenda, Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) showed a solid win in Sunday's nationwide elections for city officials.

AKP Stays in Power, But Not in Turkish Public's Favor

Turkey's ruling Islamist-leaning Justice and Development Party, or AKP, won a projected 38.92 percent of the votes cast for provincial councils during Sunday's municipal elections. The party kept hold of the mayorships in capital city Ankara and Istanbul, Turkey's largest city.

The AKP has been heralded in some Turkish circles and by many Western governments for its more liberal economic policies. Within the country, however, some see several of the party's initiatives as running counter to the secular ideals instituted by national founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

The party, which has controlled Turkey's government since 2002, built its ranks and its popularity from the country's rural—and largely socially conservative—interior. Sunday's election results indicate that the party's popularity may be waning on the back of perceived economic bungling. The government has delayed entering into a deal with the International Monetary Fund to boost the country out of record-high unemployment. "Many analysts attribute the delay to spending cuts the IMF would likely impose on Turkey," writes the Voice of America.

In 2007, the party pulled in some 47 percent of the vote amid concerns that the ascension of then-Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül, a longtime political ally of Erdogan, to the Turkish presidency would have effectively rubber-stamped the overturning of Turkey's secular state.
However, during the March 2009 election, the AKP lost ground in provinces once considered their political strongholds. The Republican People's Party (CHP), founded decades ago by secularist reformer Atatürk, pulled in 23.19 percent of the vote, compared to 20.88 percent in the 2007 general elections.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan acknowledged that the AKP needed to improve his stance among the country, saying that "the Turkish public taught his party a lesson and they will act in line with this," wrote Turkish paper Hürriyet.

The pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party, or DTP, retained its power in the largely Kurdish southeast, where politically charged fighting broke out in three of the area's cities.

The ultranationalist Nationalist Action Party, or MHP, saw a steep jump in votes, up by 60 percent to account for 16.13 percent of provincial council seats. "It also doubled the number of mayoral seats it won in the previous elections," reported Hürriyet.

But far-right causes have been gaining attention and scrutiny in Turkey for some time.

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Reference: Secularism in Turkey

Related Topic: Turkey’s Constitutional Court Decides not to Ban Islamist-Leaning Party

In July, 6 of 11 jurors on Turkey’s staunchly secularist Constitutional Court voted to ban the AKP from national politics on the accusation that it was trying to undermine the nation’s legal tradition of secularism. The court instead opted to slap the party with 12 million euros in fines.

Intermittent bans on alcohol, a clampdown on pork production, a failed attempt to illegalize adultery and a parliamentary move to end the ban on the headscarf—which was eventually overturned by the Constitutional Court—were cited by chief state prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya as evidence the AKP has an ulterior Islamist agenda.

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