Following the sweeping victory AKP won in the 12 June 2012 parliamentary elections, we decided to devote the opening session of Club Turkey to an assessment of the significance of that and implications for Turkey’s immediate political, economic, socio-cultural, and cultural future. Dr. Alon Liel, Professor Ofra Bengio, and Professor Ehud R. Toledano each provided a brief analysis of the way in which the newly formed Erdoğan cabinet is likely to proceed.
Dr. Liel referred to a change in the Turkish positioning vis-à-vis the events of the Arab Spring, suggesting that there was strong belief in Ankara that Turkey has the capability to recalibrate its Middle East policy and emerge out of the current situation stronger and more influential in the region. Senior Turkish officials expressed satisfaction at the renewal of strategic ties with the US and reiterated their demand that Israel apologize for the Mavi Marmara incident (May 2010) before any normalization of relations can ensue.
Professor Bengio centered her comments around domestic issues, pointing to the sustained, long-term nature of the socio-political transformation of Turkey, which enabled the stability reflected in the longevity of AKP rule. She noted three main issues that will determine the fate of Turkish politics: the need to resolve or at least significantly relieve the stress caused by the Kurdish issue; the necessity of constitutional reform through negotiations and referendum; and the transition to a presidential form of government. On all these, mounting difficulties require courage, creativity, and a will to act.
Professor Toledano referred to the domestic and foreign arenas, emphasizing that AKP’s victory did not give the party the mandate it needed to pass the constitutional reforms it sought and forced her to proceed by negotiation and compromise with the other forces in Turkish politics. Hence, too, he argued, the potential for losing public support due to unpopular decisions was significant. There was also the inclination on the part of PM Erdoğan to resort to suppressive measure in dealing with the Kurdish opposition, the generals, and the media. There were at the time no encouraging signs that he remains fully committed to living with criticism and free opposition. In foreign policy too, Toledano was skeptical whether the PM realized that his Arab Spring policy often backfired, and that he needed to coordinate his moves with the US and Europe in order to stabilize the region and ensure the success of its budding democracies.