23.07.2007 - By Lucia Kubosova
Following a landslide victory in parliamentary elections, the current Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has vowed to continue pressing for economic growth and political reforms designed to prepare the country for the EU membership.The ruling AK party of moderate Islamists received around 47 percent of the votes in a poll held on Sunday (22 July), up by 12 points compared to 2002 elections.
Due to a more united opposition it will however have slightly fewer seats than before, in the 550-seat parliament. Turkey's legislature will house two other secularist parties - the nationalist Republican People's Party and the far-right National Movement Party, as well as up to 27 independent deputies, mainly representing the Kurdish minority. Analysts predict the first key test of the politically enhanced government party will be the presidency vote, as the previous nominations of its own candidates for the post have led to a crisis sparking the early elections.
Secularist forces in the country, led by powerful military leaders, have accused Mr Erdogan's team of pursuing an Islamist agenda, which threatens the non-religious character of Turkey's political system by pushing for a president from its ranks.
The chief of general staff warned in April, that the army would intervene if the republic's secular values were in danger, referring to the potential break in a long-term tradition of a strictly secular presidency. Back then, the European Commission warned the military against such intervention, arguing that it would not be in line with democratic principles cherished in the EU which Turkey aspires to join.
Although there is a widespread scepticism among Turkish citizens about the country's chances to eventually receive a go-ahead for EU membership, Mr Erdogan insisted his new government would stick to a pro-EU agenda."We will continue to work with determination to achieve our European goal," he told his supporters in Ankara on Sunday post-election night.
Erdoğan and the EU
In reaction to his party's "impressive" victory, the Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso congratulated Mr Erdoğan, praising him for "his personal commitment to the sustained movement towards the European Union." However, in an interview for a Greek newspaper Kathimerini shortly before the elections, Mr Barroso argued "Turkey is not ready to become an EU member and the EU is not ready to accept Turkey as a member - neither tomorrow nor the day after tomorrow."
Last December, the EU cut off talks with Ankara - started just a year before, on eight areas, due to its reluctance to open ports and airspace to Cypriot ships and planes. Both Brussels and Ankara have been trying to keep talks going at a technical level in the meantime, with four negotiating chapters having been opened so far. But the arrival of Mr Sarkozy has put the whole process into question, with the new French president saying Turkey has "no place" in Europe and suggesting some sort of privileged partnership instead of EU entry.
On the other hand, Portugal as the current EU presidency is a staunch supporter of Turkey's EU ambitions and aims to move ahead with its negotiations during its six-month term at the bloc's helm.