Turkey’s free and fair parliamentary elections on June 12 were yet another important achievement for a country that over the decades has seen four military coups and various other interventions in its democratic process. The poll was also a historic milestone for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which won its third straight election and which again managed to increase its share of the national vote, this time reaching close to 50 percent.
But the AKP may have little time to celebrate its victory. While the party has broken significant political and economic ground over its nine years in power, the upcoming period might prove to be the most difficult yet. In the coming weeks and months, the AKP will have to address an overheating economy, turmoil in next-door Syria, escalating tension over the Kurdish issue, as well as questions about how it intends to push ahead on its plans to introduce a new constitution and to revive the stalled European Union (EU) membership process. At the same time, the AKP and, in particular, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, are likely to continue facing charges both at home and abroad that Erdogan’s leadership style has become increasingly autocratic and that some of the democratic gains made in Turkey—particularly regarding freedom of the press and freedom of expression—are under threat.
How Erdogan and the AKP respond to these issues will have profound implications for the continuing development of Turkey’s democracy and will also require close monitoring by the United States. While policymakers and pundits alike have focused almost exclusively on Turkey’s possible “drift away from the West,” it is the internal drift from the path of domestic reform that should be the major cause for concern. Washington should coordinate closely with Ankara on the international front—particularly regarding events in the Middle East—but it must also keep a close eye on domestic developments in Turkey and be prepared to put Ankara on notice for any backsliding on the democracy front.
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