THE RIGHT CHOICE

Turkey 2014 | DIPLOMACY & POLITICS | REVIEW: DIPLOMACY & POLITICS

Turkey's star continues to rise in 2014, and despite foreign policy challenges, the country's innate stability has been borne out by successful elections and a consistent rate of growth.

As voters arrived en masse at polling stations across the nation in late March 2014, the achievements of over a decade of rule by the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) were evaluated through the ballot box. Citizens voted for local representatives and their respective parties, and once again the incumbent Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his resilient AK Party emerged triumphant. A vigorous approach to leadership, combined with an economy that continues to defy the instability being experienced by other emerging markets, has won the PM and his party the respect of many in Turkey. In addition, an historic series of constitutional reforms were carried out in 2007, outlining a revised system for national and presidential elections. With 69% of the population supporting changes, which included a reduction of the presidential term, and the establishment of a popular, rather than parliament-only, vote, the party's influence on the course of Turkey's modern history is evident. And its support-base remains far from diminished, as the results of the most recent chapter of the country's venerable democratic tradition have revealed.

The Republic of Turkey is a unitary parliamentary constitutional republic founded by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in the early 1920s. A history of a strong secular government and a robust defense of national sovereignty lie at the heart of the national philosophy. The legislative branch of the government is represented by the unicameral Turkish Grand National Assembly (Büyük Millet Meclisi), which is made up of 550 seats elected across the 81 provinces of the country. Currently, the AK Party holds 317 of the total seats, with the main opposition party, the Republican People's Party (CHP), occupying 134 seats. Along with the National Movement Party (MHP), the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), and the People's Democratic Party (HDP), and a small number of independents, the opposition altogether numbers 231 members. Any party requires 10% of the national vote to gain representation in the electoral process. A party with a majority of two-thirds in parliament can freely amend the constitution without necessitating a referendum or the agreement of the opposition. As it stands, however, the Assembly is there to examine and analyze the actions of the government, and to debate new bills to ensure their suitability for Turkish citizens.

The judicial arm of the national government is an organized and respected court system, which is guaranteed by the constitution. Obstruction of the working of the courts is prohibited, and there is no jury service; instead, judicial oversight and the maintenance of the system's integrity is provided by the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors. A selection of supreme courts assesses disputes in a variety of areas.

As a direct result of the 2007 reforms, the president is now elected for four-year terms, and in August 2014 the incumbent, President Abdullah Gül, is set to step down. The president is responsible for ceremonially appointing the prime minister, who is subsequently endorsed by a vote of confidence in parliament. The latter is responsible for dissolving parliament for elections every four years and wields substantial executive powers based on the founding national principles of secularism.

The AK Party's foreign policy, directed since May 2009 by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, was based on the notion of zero problems with neighbors in order to maintain stability, but this policy has been inevitably complicated by Syria's internal conflict. Since the outbreak of civil war there, Prime Minister Erdoğan has vocally opposed the regime of Bashar Al Assad. Similarly, Turkey under the AK Party has taken a number of principled but pragmatic stances in the national interest in response to disputes with Israel and Egypt, among others.

An ongoing source of friction with countries to the West of Turkey's borders has been the AK Party's storied bid to accede to the EU, which, for a variety of reasons, was frozen for over three years until November 2013. Talks were reopened, and the Minister for EU Affairs Mevlut Çavuşoğlu celebrated the beginning of negotiations on Chapter 22 of the 35 series of European regulations that candidate countries must meet. With this remarkable step forward, 2014 is shaping up to be a promising year for Turkish aspirations.

Whether agreement can be reached or not, however, the state's long history of interaction with the West has created a political environment conducive to trade and open to investment, both incoming and outgoing. Turkey has established advantageous free trade agreements (FTAs) with 17 countries, including such diverse partners as Palestine, Morocco, Tunisia, Georgia, Serbia, Chile, Mauritius, and South Korea. The value of Turkish exports to these countries is over $15 billion, and, as such, promises to remain a sustainable factor in economic stability for years to come. In addition to these crucial trade pacts, the Republic is a member of many international organizations. It has been a member of NATO since 1952 and has declared its candidacy for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council in 2015-2016, following a successful period in that position from 2009 to 2010.