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Story Publication logo June 12, 2011

With Reelection, Turkey's Islamist Party May Further Consolidate Power

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Sex work in Turkey has long been legal, provided it takes place in state-licensed brothels. But over...

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ISTANBUL, Turkey -- It was 9 p.m., the victory was announced, but still no one was popping any champagne at the Istanbul headquarters of Turkeys ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). The screaming, drum-beating, and flag-waving, however, left no doubt: the AKP will once again hold a clear majority in the countrys 550-seat parliament.

With 50 percent of the popular vote, the moderately Islamist AKP will control 326 seats, 90 more than their closest competitor, the secular opposition Republican Peoples Party (CHP). Cherry juice, Cola Turka, and water flowed in celebration, while the younger, more calisthenically-inclined members of the party jumped around on a stage, singing AKP anthems at the top of their lungs, and stopping at times to chant the name of the AKP leader and Prime Minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Coming in short of the 367 seats it would have needed to unilaterally write a new constitution or even the 330 votes that would allow it to adopt one by referendum, the AKP will have to hold consultations with the three other parties, including the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), all of which received more than 10 percent of the vote required to claim seats in parliament. Candidates running as independents to circumvent the 10 percent requirement finished with 6.63 percent of the vote, giving them 36 seats, most of which will be in the Labor, Democracy and Freedom bloc.

At the AKP headquarters in Ankara, Erdogan told supporters that "Turkey won" in todays elections.

"Today, democracy and the national will won," he said, speaking down from the balcony to a wildly enthusiastic crowd. "Our nation assigned us to draft the new constitution. They gave us a message to build the new constitution through consensus and negotiation," he said. "We will discuss the new constitution with opposition parties, civil society groups, and academics. We will seek the broadest consensus."

Turkeys current constitution dates from the early 1980s, coming after the military coup that removed then-Prime Minister Suleyman Demirel from power. While the AKP has implemented numerous democratic reforms, some of their recent moves have made both opponents and supporters nervous. As part of a larger bill to regulate internet usage in Turkey, the government proposed a list of words to be banned from the internet, which included such head-scratchers as "overweight" and the name "Adrianne." It prompted some of the largest demonstrations in recent memory on May 15, mostly by young people who organized on Facebook and Twitter.

The government also appears to be clamping down on freedom of the press. Dozens of journalists are under arrest or investigation for minor charges. Even Ahmet Altan, the editor of the pro-AKP newspaper Taraf and himself a staunch AKP supporter, was recently arrested for the crime of "insulting" the Prime Minister in a column. Reading a statement at his court hearing last week, he noted wryly that its a good thing the Prime Minister doesnt care for literature or all novels would be banned.

One of the oppositions greatest worries is that Erdogan will push through his stated plan for a presidential system that could further consolidate power in his hands. His persecution of journalists -- especially critical ones -- and the omnipresent posters with his face above the slogan "Goal: 2023" do little to assuage those fears. But for his supporters at the AKP headquarters in Sütlüce, an AKP stronghold, tonights victories bring them one step closer to that goal.

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