From the NYT:
"The Islamic-inspired governing party of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan won a larger-than-expected victory in nationwide parliamentary elections on Sunday, taking close to half the total vote in a stinging rebuke to Turkey’s old guard.
With nearly all the votes counted, the Justice and Development Party led by Mr. Erdogan won 46.6 percent of the vote, according to Turkish election officials, far more than the 34 percent the party garnered in the last election, in 2002.
The secular state establishment had expected that voters would punish Mr. Erdogan’s party for promoting an Islamic agenda. But the main secular party, the Republican People’s Party, received just 20.9 percent, compared with 19 percent in the last election. The Nationalist Action Party, which played on fears of ethnic Kurdish separatism, won 14.3 percent, officials said.
The results were a mandate for Mr. Erdogan’s party, with large numbers of voters sending the message that they did not feel it is a threat to Turkish democracy. It fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to amend the Constitution, a blank check that secular Turks fear. According to the preliminary results, Mr. Erdogan’s party will have at least 340 seats in the 550-seat Parliament. The main secular party will have at least 111; the nationalists at least 71, and independents an unusually large 28 or more."
Some bloggers are taking this as a defeat for the West and a victory for radical Islam. Thus, Michelle Malkin: "The choice in the minds of many Turks is this: sharia or secularism? East or West? Submission or resistance?" I think this is a profound mistake.
For one thing, I haven't seen any evidence at all that "many Turks" do, in fact, see their decision about who to vote for in Malkin's terms. Many of them would not vote for a party that promised "sharia"; it's largely because Erdoğan's AK Party allayed those fears that people felt comfortable voting for it. Under the AK Party, Turkey "carried out important human rights reforms between 2002 and 2005. This resulted in significant improvement in the country’s human rights record." In addition, the AK Party has been strong on women's rights: "the AKP criminalized rape in marriage, eliminated sentence reductions for "honor killings," and ended legal discrimination against non-virgin and unmarried women."
The AK Party has also turned around what had been a stagnant economy; since it came to power, growth has averaged about 7% a year. From the WSJ:
"AKP leaders are able to claim credit for overseeing the growth of a sophisticated market economy, which like its democracy also makes Turkey unique in the Muslim world. The AKP pushed the most far-reaching privatization in Turkey's history. Corporate, income and sales taxes were cut. Unusually for the region, growth was driven by private consumption and investment, as the government kept a tight lid on its own spending. Turks who work outside the state sector showed their business chops, with exports up three-fold in the last five years. Foreign investment is 10 times the 2002 figure, at $20 billion last year."
More fundamentally, Turkey is presently emerging from the influence of the ideology of Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey. I gave some background on this here; for now I'll just say that that ideology included a very strict form of secularism, and that the fact that the AK Party is Islamist has to be understood against that backdrop. One of the big questions about the AK Party, for instance, is whether or not it will try to make it legal to wear headscarves in schools and government offices. The freedom to wear religious clothing wherever we want is something we take for granted, and the fact that women in the US can wear headscarves in government offices no more makes us an Islamic country than our similar freedom to wear crosses or yarmulkes makes us a Christian or Jewish country.
It is not our business to tell Turks how to run their country. However, as observers, I think we should be absolutely thrilled that a moderate, democratic, pro-civil liberties Islamist party has emerged in the Middle East, and even more thrilled that we had (as far as I know) nothing whatsoever to do with its rise. It is very important that serious, legitimate, and genuinely Islamic alternatives to radical Islamism emerge in the Middle East. And it is also very, very important that the Turkish army resist the temptation, to which it has yielded in the past, to stage a coup. We should, I think, use all diplomatic means available to us to prevent this. A coup would not only be bad in its own right, it would be a terrible signal to Islamists elsewhere:
"If the army refuses to accept the result, as in Algeria, Islamists across the Muslim world will conclude that they will never be accepted in a Western-style democracy. That would encourage radicals to reject any participation in parliamentary politics, on the ground that the cards are stacked against them, fuelling extremism and leading to confrontations betweeen secular politicians and Islamists around the world."
One wild card in all this is the question whether Turkey will intervene in Iraqi Kurdistan. As I understand it, many parties in Turkey are worried by the fact that the PKK, a loathesome Kurdish terrorist organization responsible for thousands of deaths, is operating from Iraqi Kurdistan. The army is particularly worried, since it tends to see itself as the guardian of Atatürk's legacy, and that legacy includes not only secularism but an unwillingness to acknowledge that there are people in Turkey who are not Turks, let alone that they might have a distinct language and culture; and a fear that any such acknowledgement would risk tearing the country apart. If the army takes over, an incursion into Iraqi Kurdistan probably becomes more likely. On the other hand, while Erdoğan seems to be resisting the pressure for such an incursion, allowing it might be one way of keeping the army at bay.
The situation now seems pretty ominous:
"After a rise in violence in the last two months, Turkey has upped troops at the Iraqi border, to perhaps 200,000, far higher than the usual build-up for spring and summer. Army leaders have publicly pressured Ankara to allow a cross-border campaign. And on Wednesday the Iraqi government said Turkish artillery and warplanes had bombarded Kurdish rebel targets inside Iraq."
"Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has threatened to go into northern Iraq if talks with Iraq and the U.S. after the elections fail to produce effective measures against Kurdish guerrillas."
The PKK and the Iraqi Kurds have not always been on good terms. I don't know enough about the politics on the ground in Iraqi Kurdistan, but if we could manage to get some of the PKK out of the mountains of Iraq, that would, I think, be a very good thing.