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The Turkish election on June 12th will showcase a Muslim democracy. Although the winner is not in doubt, it could have a big impact on Turkey’s future
Jun 2nd 2011 | ANKARA AND ISTANBUL | from the print edition http://www.economist.com/node/18772078?story_id=18772078
There are 550 seats at stake in Turkey’s single-chamber grand national assembly. If the current polls are right, AK is likely to win at least half of these (it now holds 61% of the total), enabling Mr Erdogan to form the party’s third consecutive single-party government after those in 2002 and 2007. But he is much less sure of surmounting the two higher thresholds for pushing through constitutional change.
The first of these is 330 seats, the number needed to make amendments that then have to be ratified in a popular vote—a procedure used by the AK government last September, when it won a referendum to approve changes bringing the army and the judiciary under greater democratic control. The second is 367 seats, which is how many are needed to change the constitution unilaterally, without any need for approval in a referendum. ..
The AK party, which has ruled since November 2002, gets credit from voters for overseeing steady economic growth and rising living standards after a horrible decade of economic crisis in the 1990s that culminated in a huge bust in 2001. Turkey looks especially good next to the battered Mediterranean countries that are in the euro zone. It has stronger growth, healthier banks and a lower budget deficit and public debt. Many voters also back Mr Erdogan for securing the opening of EU accession talks in 2005, welcome the country’s newly active foreign policy and applaud the party for elbowing the army out of politics, putting an end to another of Turkey’s grim traditions: military coups.
Yet the election is about a lot more than the economy, the EU, foreign policy or even the army. Many secular Turks who have thrived in recent years remain worried about the direction in which a victorious AK party might take their country. A new tolerance for the Muslim headscarf and an intolerance of alcohol point the way towards a more fiercely Islamist future, partly inspired by the opaque Fethullah Gulen movement, which seems strongly represented in the police.
There is also some concern about the strident nationalist tone that Mr Erdogan has been taking during the campaign, which seems to match his increasingly autocratic streak and intolerance of criticism. The media have become a particular target. Katinka Barysch of the London-based Centre for European Reform points out that some 50-60 journalists are now in jail, most of them accused of plotting to overthrow the government; around 10,000 lawsuits are pending against writers and broadcasters; and Turkey has dropped to 138th place in the press-freedom ranking of Reporters Without Borders, a lobby group, behind Iraq and only just ahead of Russia.