In 2002, an economic collapse in Turkey led to elections and the removal of an unpopular government supported by an irresponsible military. The Turkish people brought the conservative Justice and Development (AK) Party into power. Despite several setbacks, chief among them threatening declarations from the military and the arrest and jailing of their leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the AK Party focused on transforming Turkey into a stable and progressive regional powerhouse.
On June 12, in Turkey’s general elections, the AK Party was elected to a third consecutive term as the single party in government, after it received 49.91 per cent of the vote. The party continues to remain popular and that is primarily due to its ability to turn Turkey’s fortunes around. Prior to 2002, for years the country had double-digit inflation. You bought a cup of tea for two million liras. Now, inflation is below that of the United Kingdom. In 2010, the Turkish economy grew at 8.9 per cent. This year, the growth figure is supposed to top that.
Political and social advancement has followed economic progress. The civilian-military tension exists to some extent, but the military now maintains its constitutional role while allowing the democratically elected government to govern. The situation did not reach this stage by blatant disregard and disrespect of the military, but rather after recognition of the uniquely influential roles of both the military and civilian leadership. Politicking motivated by self-interest is no longer an issue. With a single party government, decision-making is far easier. Tourism is flourishing — Turkey is showcasing itself to the world on a daily basis.
Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, has also contributed to this turnaround. Historically, Turkey has had tense relations with its neighbours while it has submitted to the will of western powers. In the past decade, that has changed. Turkey has now adopted a much-heralded ‘zero problem policy’ under which it intends to have good relations with all of its neighbours. Ethnic conflict involving the Kurdish minority has been handled in a thoughtful and mature manner. Actionable intelligence coupled with political progress has severely reduced the risk of terror. Turkey’s past submission to western powers like the United States has now transformed into a positive relationship that is based on mutual understanding and benefit. Turkey approaches the United States on equal footing, as an ally, not a proxy.
The Turkish turnaround is not magic, but the result of skilled management. This progress is not false or fiction, it is all real. And it is possible to replicate. We now have a democracy and with that the chance to elect a government that can deliver. We have talented technocrats who can help turn our economy around. We have the natural beauty and hospitable population that tourism is built on. We need the political maturity and leadership exhibited by Turkish President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Erdogan. We need a zero problem neighbourhood based on a foreign policy that involves allied relationships. Terror needs to be controlled, intolerance rejected and internal conflict solved. None of this is impossible. We must not lose hope, as without it, we lose the impetus for change.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 18th, 2011.