Sunday, the day we flew back to Ireland, was election day in Turkey and there was no escaping the flags, banners, and posters during our trip.  Vans and buses drove around the towns and villages, the vehicles all festooned with party slogans and pictures of candidates on the side, with loudspeakers blaring what must have been each party’s theme song at full blast, over and over.  The election literally quieted down a few days before the election, though, when the leader of the fifth-largest party was in a helicopter crash with six others.  No one was found alive, and in a show of respect and mourning, all of the political parties agreed to halt the loud campaigning.

Turkish politics can be hard for an outsider to figure out.  Our guidebook states that the Turkish Prime Minister, Tayyip Erdogan, has held inflation in check, improved relations with Greece, and improved life for the Kurds.  Many news stories refer to him as a reformer, and he is continuing to work towards membership in the European Union.  The puzzler for some people, though, is that he is at the head of the AK party, which is strongly Islamist.  A few years ago, he moved to lift the ban on female students wearing the Islamic-style headscarf at university, which would be considered a liberal move in the States, but is a conservative one in Turkey.

This kind of policy makes many in Turkey nervous that Erdogan is attempting to make the country less secular.  In the past the military, which is seen by many as a check against religious extremism, has led coups against civilian governments when those governments were seen to move too far away from secularism (I’m not aware of other countries where the military regularly deposes the civilian government only to quickly restore civilian rule).  An article I read a few weeks ago implied that a military coup of the Erdogan government was not out of the question.  Ergogan’s party didn’t do quite as well as it had hoped and many predicted, so his time in power may end after the next election anyway.  I also suspect that a military coup would severely impact Turkey’s plans to join the EU, so I doubt a coup is imminent.

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