Turkish President’s Islamist Party Gets Big Surprise Victory

By Published on November 29, 2015

In a stunning turn of events in Turkey, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) managed to confound its critics and win a convincing victory at the polls. These elections were a gamble by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who maneuvered to block the formation of a coalition government following the inconclusive June elections so as to get another shot at winning a majority.

The most important contribution to Erdogan’s victory came from an unexpected source: the main Kurdish insurgent group, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), with which Turkey has been at war. In an unprecedented strategic blunder, the PKK abandoned its unilateral ceasefire after the June elections. The resulting violence helped the AKP to make its case that it stood for stability, something Turks value more than anything else.The significant increase in the AKP’s share of votes from 41 to 49 percent will undoubtedly make the new Turkish government, and Erdogan in particular, far more self confident in both domestic and international affairs.While the United States has always shown a tendency to work with the status quo, especially when it comes to an ally such as Turkey, a member of NATO, it now faces three challenges. The first, and least significant, challenge is the anti-American tone of Erdogan, his party, and especially the Erdogan-controlled press, representing approximately 70 percent of all outlets, whether print, television, online, or social media. Insinuating American plots and partisanship in favor of the opposition even forced the U.S. Ambassador to come out forcefully to deny the allegations.The second challenge is the increasingly authoritarian bent of the government, including the arbitrary confiscation of opposition television channels and newspapers and the prosecution of individuals from all walks of life for criticizing the President. If such campaigns continue, or even escalate, after these elections, it will make for uncomfortable conversations between U.S. and Turkish officials, potentially casting a shadow on other bilateral issues.However, the third and most contentious challenge will be Syria. U.S. and Turkish goals in Syria are out of sync. Turkey prioritizes the defeat of the Bashar al-Assad regime in Damascus and the containment, if not reversal, of Syrian Kurdish gains made by the Democratic Union Party (PYD). The latter has emerged as the single-most effective fighting force against the Islamic State (IS). By contrast, the United States is fixated first and foremost on the elimination of IS. The Assad regime has become a secondary issue.

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