Turkey Votes

Election paints a mixed picture at the crossroads of secular and Islamic politics.


Turkey held its election Sunday, and the ruling AKP party won a solid victory. The AKP has been called an Islamist party, and its success in this third straight election is a repudiation of the secular tradition established by Kemal Ataturk in the 1920s and 1930s. But the AKP also seems more interested than the opposition CHP and MHP parties in conforming to the requirements for entry into the European Union. Here is a nuanced and, for me, pretty convincing analysis of the AKP from National Review Online's Jim Geraghty, who lived a year or so in Ankara; here is a more favorable view from Claire Berlinski, a keen critic of Islamist terrorists in Europe who lives in Istanbul and sees the AKP as far preferable to the opposition; here is a less optimistic view from Michael Rubin, whose knowledge of Iraq, Iran, and Turkey is impressive and based on a lot of on-the-ground experiences as well as extensive study. Here's Clifford May's pre-election take on Turkey's political background.

Here is a breakdown of the vote nationally and by provinces. Nationally, the AKP had 47 percent of the popular vote (rounded off), an impressive total in a multiparty election and substantially above the 34 percent it won in 2002. The secularist CHP had 21 percent, a slight increase over last time, and the MHP 14 percent. The AKP ends up with a smaller percentage of legislative seats, because the opposition that had splintered in 2002 managed to coalesce enough to allow three party groupings to exceed the rather high 10 percent threshold needed to win seats in constituencies. The fourth group to do so was the Kurdish BGMZ, with 5 percent of the vote nationally but much more in some of the heavily Kurdish areas in the southeast.

The interactive map shows that the BMGZ led in two southeastern provinces along the Iraqi border, and by clicking on the provinces you can see that the BGMZ got 68 percent and 57 percent of the vote there. You can see why the Turkish government may be skittish about the sheltering of PKK terrorist guerrillas by the regional Kurdish government in Iraq-they've got plenty of potential sympathizers with citizens of Turkey just across the border. Yet if you click on adjacent provinces, you'll see that eastern Turkey is quite a patchwork. The BGMZ does very well in some provinces (60 percent in Tunceli) but very poorly next door (2 percent in Malatya).

AKP seems to get its strongest support in central Anatolia, presumably heavily ethnically Turkish and strongly pious: 66 percent in Kayseri, 65 percent in Konya. But AKP also led with 43 percent and 52 percent in the two provinces of metro Ankara and with 44 percent, 46 percent, and 46 percent in the three provinces of metropolitan Istanbul. In other words, the AKP is supported by more than rural fanatics.

Where does the secularist CHP hang on? It carries three provinces in European Turkey, just west of Istanbul, with 40 to 20 percent, 36 to 21 percent, and 34 to 30 percent over AKP. The two provinces of the big city of Izmir, on the Aegean coast, favored CHP over AKP 35 to 30 percent, and the Mugla area farther south went for CHP over AKP 35 percent to 26 percent. These areas are, I believe, those secured for Turkey against the terms of the Treaty of Sèvres of 1920 by the military efforts of Ataturk, who was a general of the very greatest ability and swept the Greeks out of Asia Minor and what is now Turkey today. Perhaps that is the reason why the Ataturk tradition seems strongest here. But not very strong, in electoral terms, given its great strength in Turkey for the past 70 or 80 years.

I don't pretend to understand very well what's happening in Turkey, and my very brief visit there in recent months gave me a chance to listen to presentations from some high Turkish officials (including Abdullah Gul, the AKP foreign minister, whose rejection by the parliament as interpreted by the courts for the presidency sparked last weekend's election) but not to get any real feel for the country. I find the interpretations of Jim Geraghty, Claire Berlinski, and Michael Rubin all plausible and want to learn more.