Monday 23 July 2007

Turkey votes for modernity

FOÇA, TURKEY: The build-up to yesterday´s decisive vıctory for the moderate Islam AK Parti here in Turkey was a colourful affair. The three main parties - the AKP, the once social democratic CHP and the ultra-natıonalist MHP faced each other wıth flags and placards from their respective headquarters in this Aegean town, the seasıde playground for the Izmir middle classes. But even here, despite the imposıng figure of the father of Turkish secularism, Kemal Ataturk, lookıng down from the side of the CHP headquarters and the ubiquity of bikinis and beer, there was substantial enthusiasm for the AKP. One barman muttered that he thought the army, which has a history of coups after results it dislikes -the last one as recently as 1997 - might step in. But several others I spoke to here were delighted. The AKP has not only been good for this boomıng economy, and, despite the Turkophobic French leadership, Turkey´s prospects for EU entry; it has also been a generally modernising force for good, ignoring the more puritanical voıces in its own party. Here the contrast between smiling scarfless young women advertising the AKP facing the grey men of the other two partıes on pre-election billboards said it all. The AKP are the modernisers. The army forced this vote in a row over the potential president´s wife´s wearing of a headscarf. But with a 14 point increase in the AKP vote, the people have spoken. PM Recep Erdogan struck a note of conciliation - as well as vowing continued reform - last night. If democracy is ever to succeed in the Arab world, it must be allowed its voice here in Turkey.

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