ANKARA, March 30 (Reuters) - Turkey’s ruling AK Party won a fresh endorsement in Sunday’s local elections, but not the landslide Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan had hoped for, which may make it harder for him to push reforms in the EU candidate.
WILL RESULTS HALT POLITICAL, ECONOMIC REFORMS?
Not necessarily. The polls were a referendum on Erdogan, who has pledged to reform the constitution drafted by the military in 1982 and change the way the Constitutional Court works, steps aimed at taking Muslim Turkey into the European Union.
Although the AK Party won 39 percent of the vote, outstripping the secularist opposition, the vote was the first time the party suffered a decline since it swept to victory in 2002. A drop of 8 points from the 47 percent the Islamist-rooted AK Party won in a general election in 2007 may weaken Erdogan’s hand in pressing reforms that could antagonise secularists, who accuse the AK Party of having a hidden Islamist agenda.
The secularist CHP opposition, which made gains, resists Erdogan’s plans to reform the constitution, saying a party which narrowly survived a Constitutional Court case in 2008 for Islamist activities has no business in reforming a constitution that enshrines the secular principles of Turkey.
Erdogan might now have to seek compromises. "The result gives Erdogan less room to manoeuvre, and he’ll have to be less confrontational," said Timothy Ash, economist at Royal Bank of Scotland. "His opponents may now view him as weak, making them more willing to challenge him."
WHAT HAPPENS TO IMF LOAN AGREEMENT?
The International Monetary Fund and Turkey have been in talks for months on a deal markets say is key to helping the $750 billion economy weather the global crisis. Analysts say Erdogan’s margin of victory should avoid the risk of economic populism, which could put a painful IMF agreement at risk. Business groups have accused Erdogan of being too slow to react to the weakening global economy. The result was expected to force the government to agree to a deal after suspending talks in January, analyst Simon Quijano-Evans at C.A. Cheuvreux said.
DOES AKP HAVE TO CALL EARLY ELECTIONS?
No. But local polls have traditionally been important in Turkey, with governments severely handicapped if they failed to score well. The secularist CHP opposition, which saw its support climb to 23 percent and made inroads in Istanbul and Ankara, could step up calls for an early vote, although the next general election is not scheduled until 2011.
Erdogan said he would take the "necessary lessons" from the results and said a cabinet reshuffle was possible. Analysts have attributed the decline in AK Party support to the effects of the global economic crisis, and Erdogan is unlikely to call an early vote at a time when Turkey’s once-booming economy is shrinking and with unemployment at a record high.
WILL GOVERNMENT, OPPOSITION TENSIONS INCREASE?
Tensions between the two camps are likely to continue clouding the future of Turkey, a predominantly Muslim country with a secular constitution and where the public place of Islam is a divisive issue. Secularists accuse the AKP of seeking to ease secular restrictions on religion, but Erdogan denies this. An investigation into a shadowy organisation accused of plotting to overthrow Erdogan has renewed tensions between the army and the government. More than 140 people, including retired generals, face charges of having links to the Ergenekon group.
The military, which has unseated four elected governments in the last 50 years, denies links to Ergenekon. Erdogan denies the investigation is a witchhunt but the trial is seen breaking taboos that have long hurt Turkish democracy flourish. (Writing by Ibon Villelabeitia; Additional reporting by Ayla Jean Yackley; Editing by Dominic Evans)