- - Monday, June 8, 2015


The results of the Turkish election are almost too good to be true.

Islamism-light has been handed a whopping defeat. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan got nowhere near the two-thirds majority in the parliament on which he staked his political reputation — and the future of Turkey.

With all the wacko nonsense he and his close followers have been spouting about foreign plots against him and Turkey (even the old canards about the Jews), he was becoming a true menace. There was little doubt that if he got his two-thirds mandate, he would amend the Turkish constitution and continue toward an authoritarian state with Islamist words if not necessarily the music. In fact, last week’s vote, while giving him 41 percent of the seats in the 550-seat Grand National Assembly, was a drop of 8 percent from the 2011 elections. He will have a difficult time forming a coalition without making major concessions on the right, the left and to minority ethnic groups.

There were other goodies in the outcome: The Kurds, whose militants waged a bloody 30-year war against the central government for language and other rights for their 20 percent of the population, came in strong. These “Mountain Turks” won 13 percent, with a little help from their friends who aren’t Kurds, and collected a hefty 49 seats. The largely rural far right Nationalist Movement Party (the “Grey Wolves”) drew 16 percent, with almost half its seats to be occupied by women. That’s a spit-in-your-face rebuff to Mr. Erdogan’s recent “anti-women’s liberation” slurs. Three Armenians, with their troubled history of persecution and annihilation from the failing Ottoman Empire, won seats from three different parties.

Chairman Murat Karayalcin of the main opposition, the old Ataturk Republican People’s Party (CHP), who got just over 25 percent of the vote, has called on the opposition parties to join him in a coalition. It’s something he says they promised before the elections. That wouldn’t be easy, given the People’s Party’s nostalgia for Ataturk’s “state capitalism,” which Mr. Erdogan had tossed aside to loosen restraints on the economy, bringing on the recent burst of prosperity and popularity.

The bad news, of course, is that Turkey enters this new period of vote-swapping with its economy on a downward slide. Turkey was one of the worst-affected during the global economic crisis with its economy shrinking by a staggering 5 percent in 2009. The more recent growth that averaged 7.2 percent per year has collapsed into what the International Monetary Fund expects to be only 3 percent in 2015 and 2016.

If political stability could be restored quickly, Turkey might continue to get foreign investment to meet its balance of payments crisis and needs of technological transfer. The new coalition, whatever it is, must return to the economic reforms Mr. Erdogan had largely abandoned. Even that, given its other problems, not least the crisis in neighboring Greece, is not likely to win a serious invitation to join the European Union, the aim of Turkey’s serious economic planners.

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