In Sunday’s parliamentary elections, the people of Turkey fired a warning shot against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). While it is true AKP received the largest number of votes and remains the most powerful political party in Turkey, it is also true that this is hardly the result the former prime minister and current President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan wanted. In emulation of Russian strongman Vladimir Putin, Mr. Erdogan has paid lip-service to his country’s democratic institutions by moving between executive positions, a cumbersome process he proposed to eliminate by amending the Constitution to consolidate power in the presidency he holds, had the voters given him sufficient support in the parliament.
They did the opposite, reducing AKP’s seats by almost 10%, and raising the number of seats held by the Kurdish minority to a historic high of 80. Rather than consolidating power, Mr. Erdogan will now have to share it or face the voters again in early elections.
This is good news for Turkey, and it should be good news for the United States as well. Turkey has been a long-standing friend to our nation, and is an important NATO ally. But Mr. Erdogan’s increasingly autocratic, Islamist and anti-American policies, largely un-rebuked by the Obama administration, have threatened this relationship. Under his rule, Turkey has become a leader in Internet censorship and the persecution of journalists. Mr. Erdogan’s administration has been aggressively hostile to our ally Israel, further inflaming regional tensions. By withholding access to the NATO air base at Incirlik, Turkey has further jeopardized our already anemic campaign against the spread of ISIS along Turkey’s borders with Syria and Iraq.
But now the people of Turkey have gone where the Obama administration has feared to tread, and signaled they want a new course, one that is more inclusive of minorities and, we can hope, more friendly to America. This election may thus represent something that has been in short supply in the Middle East—an opportunity for the United States. The president admitted Monday what has long been apparent to most observers, that we have no coherent strategy against ISIS. Now might be the moment to develop one, starting with exerting pressure on Turkey to take aggressive action against the ISIS fighters moving across its borders and to give us access to our air base at Incirlik so we can see how ISIS reacts to a serious, concerted air campaign.
Mr. Erdogan remains in power for the moment, and it may be that he will never agree to these requests. But the United States should make them loud and clear because while their president may not listen, the Turkish people might be open to partnering with America against the vicious scourge of terrorism that threatens both our nations.
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