(A view shows buildings plastered with Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's election campaign posters, as a ferry leaves Eminonu pier in Istanbul June 10, 2011/Murad Sezer)
The last time Turks voted in a general election in 2007, opponents feared the socially conservative ruling party was turning Turkey into an Iran-style Islamic state. With voters on Sunday expected to keep Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party in office for a third straight term, critics and some analysts now worry about that less but fear that the future course of democracy may be at stake.
A rising power with a vibrant, free economy and a U.S. ally that aspires to join the European Union, Turkey is held up as an example of marrying Islam and democracy and has been an oasis of stability in a region convulsed by “Arab Spring” uprisings. AK has also overseen the most stable and prosperous period of Turkey’s history with market-friendly reforms, and begun membership talks with the EU while opening new markets in Asia, the Middle East and Africa.
( Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's election campaign posters in Istanbul June 10, 2011. The posters read, "Stability proceeds, Turkey grows" and "Turkey is ready, Target is 2023"/Murad Sezer)
But Erdogan, whose party controls the government and parliament and who last year won a referendum to overhaul the judiciary, says if he wins by a big enough margin this time and achieves a “super majority,” he will rewrite Turkey’s constitution.
Many fear such a move will polarize society and distract the government from pursuing the needed structural reforms in the economy.
Scaremongering suggesting the AK has some hidden Islamist agenda is gaining less traction these days. “If we did have a hidden agenda this would be the best kept secret on earth because people have seen us in action for the past nine years,” Egemen Bagis, Turkey’s minister for European affairs, told Reuters at a marina built for the new rich on the outskirts of Istanbul.
(People walk under the flags of political parties in Istanbul June 10, 2011/Murad Sezer)
This Pew study has an interesting take on religion and politics in Turkey:
“Opinions about the state of the country are strongly associated with religiosity. A solid majority (64%) of Muslim Turks who pray five times a day are satisfied with the direction of the nation. Among those who pray at least once a week but less than five times daily, only 41% are satisfied. And among those who hardly ever pray or only do so during religious holidays, just 32% express satisfaction.
“Supporters of the AKP – who tend to express high levels of personal religiosity – are especially likely to believe the country is headed in the right direction: 73% say they are satisfied. Older Turks are also happier with the state of the country – 56% of those ages 50 and older are satisfied, compared with 46% of those ages 30-49 and 42% of people under 30.”