17 June 2011

A dynamic Turkey steps up

Congratulations to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) for their victory in the Turkish election last Sunday. Erdogan led his party to their third straight win with a majority of seats and almost 50 per cent of the popular vote.

The AKP has guided Turkey to unprecedented prosperity. Since they first took power in 2002, the GDP per capita has risen from $3,500 per annum to $10,079. Foreign investment in the Turkish economy has soared from $1.1 billion to $9 billion, and Turkey has increased trade with its neighbours from $5 billion to $16 billion. In 2010, Turkey became the fastest growing economy in Europe. Staples such as gas, tea and sugar, once scarce, are now plentiful. The AKP government has matched the economic progress with improvements in social programs.

The country is also moving up on the international stage, becoming both a regional and a global player with its use of soft power. After seeming to ignore its neighbourhood for decades, it has become increasingly influential, offering an attractive alternative to peoples justifiably suspicious of American and European interventions in the region. Erdogan's newly assertive foreign policy is highly popular among  Egyptians, Jordanians, Lebanese and Palestinians.

Of particular importance is the example Turkey sets for those Arabs pushing for democratic change. Not only is it a dynamic and successful Muslim democracy, it is governed by an Islamic party.

It has its problems, of course, dealing justly with its large Kurdish minority perhaps first among them. But a prospering local democracy will provide the perfect mentor for the Middle East, rather as Brazil is proving to be an excellent mentor for South America as its nations awaken to democracy and emancipation of their indigenous peoples.

Erdogan, the AKP and Turkey deserve continued success, domestically and internationally, in their democratic adventure.

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