Turkey in a position to dream grandly

Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is heading for its third election victory in a row on Monday, and it is starting to suffer delusions of grandeur.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses the supporters of his Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party during an election rally in Ankara

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses the supporters of his Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party during an election rally in Ankara

Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is heading for its third election victory in a row on Monday, and it is starting to suffer delusions of grandeur.

Its election manifesto focuses not on the near future but on the year 2023, the hundredth anniversary of the Turkish Republic — as if it were confident of staying in power for the next dozen years.

And its vision of Turkey’s future in 2023 is bold.

The party’s leader, Prime Minister Recep Tayyib Erdogan, has set a target of making Turkey one of the word’s 10 largest economies by 2023. (The country currently has only the 17th biggest economy in the world.) Toget there, Turkey would have to triple its gross domestic product in 12 years.

Average Turkish per capita income by 2023, AKP’s manifesto predicts, will be $25,000 a year, not far below that of Spain today. There are mega-projects, too: a space program, an aviation industry that designs and builds aircraft from scratch, even a 50-km canal west of Istanbul that bypasses the crowded Bosphorus strait and connects the Black Sea to the Mediterranean.

To be fair, the AKP leader’s dreams have some basis in reality. Per capita income in Turkey is already about the same as in Russia or Romania, and it’s growing a lot faster.

Even if the country is unlikely to reach the goals Erdogan has set by 2023, it will probably be more than halfway there by then. And it seems that Erdogan plans to be around to collect the credit.

The AKP manifesto also promises a new constitution, and almost everybody assumes that this would create a powerful executive presidency on the French model. (The office is currently largely ceremonial.)

Then Erdogan, who says he will step down as party leader after this parliament, would run for president instead.

Turkish presidents are elected for up to two five-year terms, so if Erdogan won the new-style presidency in 2015, he would stand a fair chance of still being in office to preside over celebrations in 2023.

He’ll only be 69 then, so why not?

But to change the constitution, Erdogan doesn’t just have to win this month’s election. That is pretty much guaranteed: the polls currently give the AKP almost 50 per cent of the votes. He has to win over two-thirds of the seats in parliament, which is a lot trickier, given Turkey’s unpredictable electoral system.

The key element in that system is that no party gets representation in parliament unless it wins at least 10 per cent of the vote.

Two parties, the AKP and the Republican People’s Party (CHP), regularly get many more votes than that. The third horse in the race, the Nationalist Action Party (MHP), sometimes clears the 10 per cent threshold — and sometimes it doesn’t.

In 2002, the MHP got less than 10 per cent of the vote, and so no seats in parliament. That allowed the AKP (centre-right and moderately Islamic) to win 66 per cent of the seats in parliament although it only got 34 per cent of the popular vote. All the other seats went to the CHP (left-of-centre and militantly secular).

Things were different in 2007. The MHP got 14.5 per cent of the vote, and a comparable share of the 550 seats in parliament. The AKP raised its share of the popular vote to 47 per cent, but it ended up with only 60 per cent of the seats, below that critical two-thirds majority. So it matters a great deal to Erdogan whether the MHP manages to stay in parliament after this election.

Two weeks ago it looked as if his dearest wish had been granted. A very slick video appeared on the Internet showing 10 — count them, 10 — MHP members of parliament in deeply compromising circumstances with women who were not their wives. They all resigned and most people assumed that the MHP, a conservative, “family values” sort of party, would be punished by the voters.

Wrong. The last opinion poll in Turkey was published on the first of this month, and it showed the MHP still bouncing along with 11 per cent of the vote. Maybe Turkish conservatives are less prudish than we thought.

But a lot of Turks still fear that Erdogan has a secret agenda to turn the country into an Islamic state. They are probably wrong but they will sleep better if he doesn’t get to rewrite the constitution.

In fact, maybe that’s why the MHP’s number are holding up so well despite the scandal. Turks know all about tactical voting.

Gwynne Dyer is a freelance Canadian journalist living in London.

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