Turkey’s parliamentary elections earlier this month set the stage for how Turkish leaders pursue reform at home and approach the many challenges and opportunities in the country’s tumultuous neighborhood. How this all plays out will have important implications for U.S. foreign policy in the region. Why? Because U.S.-Turkish relations as they relate to the many conflicts in the region may well be key to addressing these conflicts effectively to the benefit of both countries.
As expected, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party, or AKP, its Turkish acronym, will stay in charge with a solid majority in the Turkish parliament. But because he and his party were unable to meet the two- thirds requirement needed to change the constitution, Erdogan will need the support of the opposition to pursue the key reforms of the constitution, such as changing to a presidential system.
The opposition consolidated its position. The social-democratic Republican People’s Party, or CHP, expanded its voter base by over 3 million compared to the dismal results of the last election in 2007 when the party garnered the votes of only 19 percent of the electorate. And importantly, the Kurds dramatically increased their representation in the parliament due to a strong showing of the Kurdish candidates in the southeast of the country; the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, will now have 36 seats and a voice in what will be a core issue of the constitutional reform debate: the Kurdish minority conflict.
The recent election carries international implications, too. Turkey’s success on the global stage over the past decade has brought added responsibilities for its leadership. As a regional power Turkey has to wrestle not only with a rapidly changing environment in the Eastern Mediterranean but also with accusations of double standards because of its strong criticism of Israel and its initial silence when it came to atrocities committed in Libya and Syria.
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