The coming parliamentary elections in Turkey present the next government with the opportunity to replace the 1982 Constitution with one that promotes rights and freedoms while addressing the structural problems with the existing system of government. The new government also needs to continue the reconciliation process, which has produced the current healthy and peaceful election environment. Irrespective of the biased reports and editorials appearing in Western media outlets, Turkey's maturing multi-party democracy offers a valuable answer to the chaos gripping the region.
On Sunday, 7 June, millions of voters will go to the ballots to pick Turkey's next government. Polling stations at Turkish diplomatic missions have already opened to allow the approximately 2 million citizens who permanently reside outside the country to participate in a general election for the first time in history. With 12 days to go, pollsters unanimously predict a landslide victory for the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), which has been in power since 2002. The big question is whether the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), an offshoot of the Kurdish political movement in parliamentary politics, will be able to pass the 10 percent national election threshold to possibly double the number of seats it controls at the legislative assembly. Although observers and sympathizers disagree on the election's probable outcome, one thing is clear: The 2015 parliamentary election, like its predecessors, represents a historic occasion to celebrate the country's culture of democracy and tolerance.
In Turkey, where multi-party elections have been held regularly since 1946, electoral democracy remains strongly institutionalized. The turnout rate in local, parliamentary and presidential contests has traditionally been higher than in other European countries. Although the country has witnessed the rise and fall of numerous political parties over the past decades, the people's struggle against bureaucratic oligarchy, embodied by the guardianship regime, has characterized previous elections. The absence of election-related violence, meanwhile, has been a remarkable feature of Turkish democracy. Even in the turbulent 1970s, election results received due respect from all political parties – losers gracefully accepted defeat, while winners celebrated their victory.
Improvements have been made, as a matter of fact, with regard to election security. Perhaps for the first time in Turkey's modern history, all political parties have been able to campaign freely and peacefully. Last week, the HDP, which is affiliated with the terrorist organization PKK, held a large campaign rally in the secularist-nationalist stronghold of İzmir, where party members had been violently assaulted in previous election cycles. Surely enough, the overall peaceful environment has emerged out of the Kurdish reconciliation process and the period of democratic reform under the AK Party.
Despite Turkish democracy's strong track record, a number of international media outlets have been curiously eager to share their ideas about the upcoming contest. Most recently, The New York Times published an editorial to make a scandalous call to "the United States and Turkey's other NATO allies … to turn [President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan] from this destructive path."
While New York Times editors are certainly entitled to their opinions, it is important to distinguish between meaningful criticism and ill-informed speculation. Their concerns over the future of democracy, one would think, would have been much more credible had they cared to break their silence about the overthrow of Egypt's elected former president, Mohammed Morsi, by the country's military command. Let's be clear: You cannot play favorites when it comes to democratic principles.
At a time when both Europe and the Middle East are faced with major political, economic and humanitarian challenges, Turkey's stability represents a valuable asset to the Western hemisphere and a safeguard of regional peace and security. Ahead of the June 7 elections, all political parties and social groups must stick to fair play and avoid populist language and discriminatory remarks. Similarly, they have a responsibility to the people of Turkey to show due respect to the election results no matter how the situation plays out.
As Daily Sabah, we urge the next government of Turkey to follow through with the country's European Union membership bid while maintaining close relations with its neighbors and promoting peace at home by unconditionally committing to the Kurdish reconciliation process. To protect citizens from abuse of power and other transgressions, the political leadership must make a sincere effort to replace the 1982 Constitution, which unmistakably reflects the military junta's outdated and authoritarian mindset, with a new social contract that addresses structural problems with the existing system of government while promoting individual rights and liberties.
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