Hello and welcome back, thank you for gracing me with your presence dear reader.
Today, I am going to channel my Turkish roots. On both sides of my family I have Turkish ancestry and I have always felt a great affinity with this enchanting country. A unique land which straddles two continents, embracing the best of Europe and Asia, Turkey has seen many past glories and is still standing much as Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, would have envisaged it.
Tomorrow, brings the second election this year and it is a make or break poll for President Recip Tayip Erdogan and his AK Party who have dominated Turkish politics for the past thirteen years. First elected in 2002, anybody who knew Turkey in the 1990s would have a hard time denying that the AK Party has transformed society and the economy for the better. The rights of women to wear a headscarf or divorce were severely restricted under preceding administrations. During the Cold War period the state was beset by unstable, corrupt and incompetent governments and had the ignominious label of ‘the sick man of Europe’ due its poorly performing economy and virtually worthless currency. I can recall on a trip to Turkey in the early 2000s’ carting around what felt like a brick but was in actual fact the necessary funds for a short taxi ride!
In 2002, following a severe economic crisis AK was elected headed up by the former footballer and firebrand, Recip Tayip Erdogan, who then set about reforming the economy and achieving, on average, a 4% GDP annual growth rate between 1999 and 2015 according to Trading Economics, a global economics consultancy. Turkey became a respected middle income country, made significant progress on its long stalled plans to EU membership and built new alliances in the Middle East and Asia. The world had come to Turkey and life was as sweet as a box of Turkish delight!
Nowadays, Turkey is at the centre of a global storm. With its neighbour, Syria, in a state of civil war Turkey has seen an estimated 2 million refugees (a figure provided by UNHCR) stream through its borders and continued flows of migration from the ongoing conflict in Iraq. European leaders have now put aside concerns over press freedom and alleged human rights abuses to get down to some realpolitik with President Erdogan. Like him or loathe him (and it is one of the two believe me!) he is central to a resolution of the refugee crisis which has seen many dispossessed peoples hurry to European shores to escape the turmoil in the Middle East. Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, and Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, were recent visitors to President Erdogan’s sumptuous palace in Ankara, the Turkish capital. Russian President Vladimir Putin also has geostrategic interests in keeping Turkey on side as his navy needs access to the warm waters of the Mediterranean via the Turkish held Bosphorous Straits.
The election in June resulted in a loss of the overall Parliamentary majority of the AK Party in over a decade as liberals and ethnic minorities coalesced around opposition parties. Following on from violent street demonstrations in Istanbul and Ankara in 2013 and a recent bomb attack at an opposition election rally in October, President Erdogan is not universally popular and as his economy has slowed many Turks are looking for worthy alternatives. Unfortunately, the opposition parties are largely untested, inexperienced and beset by scandal.
Tomorrow’s election, according to the Turkish Daily Sabah newspaper, could result in another coalition government but what it urges is a majority AK Party as the best option to revive a Turkish economy under pressure and to deal with the myriad of foreign policy challenges on its doorstep. Certainly for Europe, a strong Turkish government in Ankara will be much better to tackle the refugee crisis and help find a political solution to the twin crises in Syria and Iraq. It is in all our interests to ensure that Turkey remains stable and well run and for that there is at this moment in time not much alternative to President Erdogan and the AK Party. Roll on Sunday’s election day!