Turkey Re-Elects Prime Minister Erdogan

Opponents of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, prime minister of Turkey, charge he wanted to subvert his country's political system, accusing him and his party of being Islamic fundamentalists. But that didn't stop voters in Turkey from returning their prime minister to office.

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His opponent said he wanted to subvert his country's political system, but that did not stop voters in Turkey from returning their prime minister to office. The prime minister's name is Recep Tayyip Erdogan. His party won reelection over the weekend. And that is significant because Erdogan leads a moderate Islamist party. For more than 80 years, Turkey has been fiercely secular. It's also an ally of the United States. But Erdogan's party dominated yesterday's voting.

NPR's Ivan Watson reports from Istanbul.

IVAN WATSON: Last night, a laser light show and throbbing music greeted ecstatic supporters outside Erdogan's AK Party headquarters in Ankara.

(Soundbite of music)

WATSON: When the results were in, Erdogan took to the stage and chanted one nation, one flag, one country, one state.

Prime Minister RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN (Turkey): (Turkish spoken)

Unidentified Group: (Turkish spoken)

WATSON: In his speech, Erdogan sent a conciliatory message to his political opponents. He called for unity. Turkey has been polarized after a political crisis last spring led to fears of a possible military coup. In April, a showdown in parliament between Erdogan and secularist opposition leaders led to the annulment of a vote for president. The secularists, backed by the powerful Turkish military, claimed that if Erdogan's party captured the post of president, he would dismantle Turkey's secular system of government. In the run up to yesterday's vote, the opposition continued to accuse Erdogan and his AK Party of being Islamic fundamentalists.

Mr. BULANTALI REISA(ph) (Turkish Analyst, Center for Strategic and International Studies): Half of the electorate has said that they do not believe that the AK Party is going to undo the fundamental secular character of the constitution.

WATSON: Bulantali Reisa is a Turkish analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Mr. REISA: Erdogan has made it clear that he's willing to live within not the limits of the outer secular system. The question is whether his opponents actually believe him any more now after the election than they did before the election.

WATSON: Samra Sunat(ph) worked as an election monitor yesterday at a polling station in an upscale Istanbul neighborhood.

Ms. SAMRA SUNAT (Election Monitor, Istanbul): Right now, in Turkey, there is a social paranoia that the ruling party will take over and Turkey will be a fundamentalist country as well. It's a social paranoia.

WATSON: Erdogan frightens many people from Turkey's traditional secular elite. But the prime minister's populist touch continues to capture the imagination of more conservative working class Turks. The country's economy has also boomed during Erdogan's four and a half years in power. Chronic hyperinflation has been tamed, and per capita income has doubled. But wide-ranging reforms aimed at getting Turkey into the European Union have triggered a nationalist backlash. That helped the right wing Nationalist Movement Party win dozens of seats in parliament yesterday.

Unidentified Man: (Turkish spoken)

WATSON: At one election rally this month, the head of this nationalist party threw a noose into the crowd and promised to hang the imprisoned commander of the PKK - the Kurdish separatist movement, which is fighting a guerilla war against the Turkish state. But yesterday also marked the victory for Kurdish nationalists. For the first time in more than a decade, Kurdish candidates accused of having links to the PKK won more than two-dozen parliamentary seats. That sets the stage for inevitable future confrontations in the halls of parliament. As one Turkish analyst put it: Democracy is messy, and Turkish democracy is messier than most.

Ivan Watson, NPR News, Istanbul.

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