Egyptian observers are among the hundreds watching Turkey's landmark election closely for signs of hope for their home countries.
Turkey election may prove a poll model
ISTANBUL // When Turkey goes to the polls today to elect a parliament that is scheduled to write a new constitution, Emad Kashaba will be watching closely. He feels there are lessons to be learned for his own country.
Mr Kashaba, a 25-year-old Egyptian, is among a hundred young men and women from 45 countries who have been observing Turkey's election campaign in Istanbul by invitation of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP.
"We want to know everything" about how to run an efficient and competitive election campaign, Mr Kashaba said, adding he had learned a lot by watching AKP candidates on the campaign trail. He said he was impressed by how humble they were in dealing with voters.
As the uprisings of the Arab Spring have swept away several regimes in the region, Turkey, as a western-style republic with a predominantly Muslim population, has been cited by some as a possible role model for the emerging new political systems. Mr Kashaba said he and his fellow observers wanted "to use this model back home".
The religiously conservative AKP, which has been in government since late 2002, can expect between 45 and 50 per cent of the vote today, according to the latest opinion polls.
Recep Erdogan, the 57-year-old prime minister, has said this will be the last time he stands for parliament, but many observers believe he wants to become president after his expected new term ends in 2015.
The secularist Republican People's Party, or CHP, is expected to win between 25 and 30 per cent of the vote, with the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, trailing at 10 to 15 per cent. The Party for Freedom and Democracy, or BDP, is fielding nominally independent candidates to circumvent the rule that a party needs at least 10 per cent of the nationwide vote to win seats in parliament and can expect to send up to 30 deputies to Ankara, according to polls.
In a sign of self-confidence, Mr Erdogan called a news conference last week to give details of the new AKP cabinet after the expected victory today. The new government would consist of 25 members, down from 27 at present, Mr Erdogan told reporters in Ankara. The new cabinet will include an upgraded ministry for European Union affairs. Mr Erdogan did not say who would fill the posts.
During a campaign that focused on economic issues, unemployment and corruption, the prime minister and other party leaders have criss-crossed the country for weeks, speaking at several campaign events a day. At a huge campaign rally in Istanbul last weekend, Mr Erdogan asked voters to give the AKP at least 367 deputies, which would be a two-thirds majority in parliament.
The margin of victory the AKP can expect matters because the new parliament will work out a new constitution to replace the current one, which was written under military rule in 1982. All parties agree that Turkey needs a new constitution after years of democratic reforms that saw a strengthening of power for elected bodies and a weakening of the military, which has pushed four governments from power since 1960. But there is no agreement about how such a new constitution should look.
"If we enter parliament with 367 deputies plus one, then the nation will have given us this mandate and we will start work [on a new constitution] right away," Mr Erdogan said during his speech in Istanbul. But it will not be easy for the AKP to reach that number. Even after its landslide victory in the last elections in 2007, when it raked in nearly 47 per cent of the vote, Mr Erdogan's party sent only 341 deputies to Ankara.
Critics suspect the AKP might use a big win today to try to push through a constitution that is tailored to its own interests, rather than to those of the country. With more than 330 deputies, the AKP would be able to send a draft constitution to a referendum for a final decision.
As Mr Erdogan has publicly supported a switch from Turkey's present parliamentary system to a French-like presidential system, there has been speculation that the prime minister is planning to claim the top job for himself once the change has been made with the help of the new constitution.
"I don't like Erdogan's attitude of 'trust me and never mind the rest'," Ahmet Altan, editor in chief of the Taraf daily who has supported the Erdogan government on many occasions in the past, wrote in a column last week. Altan wrote he would not vote for the AKP.
In Istanbul, Mr Kashaba and the other election observers will spend the evening of the election together and watch the results come in before flying home tomorrow.
"They say they want to use their experience with democracy and freedom after their return to their own countries," Hulya Icoz, a member of the youth branch of the AKP's Istanbul chapter, which organised the observers' visit, said about the guests.
Mr Kashaba agreed. "It's going to be very useful," he said.
Four reasons these elections are likely to be a landmark: comment, page a18