US and Turkey’s Nov. 1 national election

The resounding victory of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the Nov. 1 national election in which it won 49.37 percent of the vote was also a victory for US interests in the Middle East, especially in Syria and Iraq.
The AKP won 317 seats in Parliament out of a total of 550. It fell only 13 votes short of being able to call for a referendum (330 seats) to determine whether Turkish citizens would be able to vote for a presidential system, rather than the current parliamentary system. This would strengthen further the dominance of the AKP. It now seems that such a referendum will not take place, at least in the near future. But even the de facto implementation of a presidential system seems to assure that the current president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and his AKP will become an even stronger determiner of Turkeyand’s political authoritarian direction.
Opposition parties and civil society organizations fear that the AKP will continue on its current path of suppressing and intimidating opposition, coercing the judicial system and courts, harassing the non-pro-government media, both visual and print, and imprisoning disagreeing journalists, both Turkish and Kurdish. Oppositional forces also think that such a political path will create even deeper strains between Kurdish nationalists and the militant Kurdistan Workersand’ Party (PKK).
A and”peace processand” commenced between the AKP and the PKK in 2013 and continued until the June 7 parliamentary election, which ended in a hung parliament compelling the election of Nov. 1. From the June 7 election until the Nov. 1 election Turkey and the PKK once again engaged in armed conflict.
The election outcome of Nov. 1 means that the AKP, President Erdogan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoilu might well be able to remain in power until 2019, when another parliamentary election is scheduled.
The unexpectedly strong showing of the AKP was met with appreciation by the US.
In terms of the current political situation in the Middle East, the US welcomed this for several reasons. The election seemed to demonstrate that Turkey will now take a stronger stance against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and jihadist forces in Syria and in Iraq — the biggest challenge in the Middle East to US and the 60-nation coalition against ISIL.
The election also assures that even as Turkey increases its war against ISIL, it also has the approval of the US to continue its war against the PKK in Turkey, in northern Iraq and against the Kurdish nationalists in Syria.
h2Results allow Turkey to continue attacking YPGh2 An additional bonus for Ankara as a result of the election is that it also allows Turkey to continue to attack the Peopleand’s Protection Units (YPG), the armed wing of the Syrian Kurdish nationalist Democratic Union Party (PYD) that is closely aligned with the PKK. The US does not consider the YPG a terrorist organization as it does the PKK. Indeed, the US encourages the YPG to fight against ISIL and provides it with weapons to do so. The US considers the PKK a terrorist organization because Turkey considers it as such and the US (and others) needs Turkeyand’s participation in the war against ISIL and other jihadists groups in Syria and Iraq. The US also needs Turkey as an ally in meeting geopolitical challenges from Russia in the Black Sea and the Aegean Sea and in the eastern Mediterranean, especially with regard to Syria and Israel.
It must be noted that Turkey was one of four major participants, along with the US, Russia, Iran and Saudi Arabia, of a meeting that took place in Vienna on Oct. 28 and 29. The other participants — Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, the EU — play a lesser role in the unfolding Syrian tragedy.
Turkey is important for the US in that it shares a 511-mile border with Syria. The US, Russia, Iran and Saudi Arabia have no borders with Syria. Turkey has around 2 million refugees from Syria, while Russia, the US, Iran and Saudi Arabia have negligible amounts. Turkey (Turks, Kurds and Arabs) have established over 1,000 trade and other entrepreneurial partnerships with Syrians — Arabs, Kurds, Turkomans — who comprise some 10-12 million people in the frontier regions along both sides of the Turkey-Syria border. The US, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Iran have few such partnerships, especially in northern Syria.
This means that Turkey will be the most important major player in the new geographical and economic entities emerging in northern Syria.
In this regard, it is rational that the US finds it logical, if somewhat disconcerting given the authoritarian and anti-democratic policies of the AKP, to encourage Turkeyand’s strong participation in talks and policies that address the bitter consequences of the civil war in Syria.
Whatever policies the AKP chooses to follow in Turkeyand’s domestic politics are of secondary importance to the US.
hr *Robert Olson is the author of and”Turkeyand’s Relations With Iran, Syria, Israel, and Russia, 1991-2000: The Kurdish and Islamist Questions.and”


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