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What do the Turkish election results mean for its friends?

Every Turkish election seems to bring widespread surprise when the results are tallied. This time around, every pollster was off by 5-10 percent. With close to 90 percent voter turnout in the country, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKParty) won a resounding victory and mandate to rule Turkey for the next four years writes Joshua W. Walker.

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was not on the ballot, but he forced his party to take a huge political gamble and run for another election after the last June 7 election, when the AKParty lost its majority for the first time in its history. Regardless of this internal tumult, Turkey has never been more important to transatlantic relations given the refugee crisis overwhelming Europe and the fight against the self-proclaimed Islamic State group. Here are the key transatlantic implications of this latest election:

Europe still matters in Turkey.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s trip to Turkey right before the elections was a gift to Erdoğan and the ruling AKParty, who used it to bolster claims that his party was the only party that could rule and stabilize the country after a period of extreme volatility. Striking a deal with Europe on the influx of Syrian refugees that often transit through or start from Turkey may have been a pragmatic move but the timing could not have been more critical as a signal to the Turkish population. After months of blistering criticism about Erdoğan’s “authoritarian” behavior involving press freedom and human rights allegations against Turkey’s Kurds, Europe made a choice for stability.

The economy will ultimately determine the fate of this government.

From a market perspective, the election outcome was probably the best that could have come after the June election, as evidenced by the rising stock markets and strength of the lira after several months of volatility. Now, the AKParty has returned to power with business as usual but with a reduced majority, guaranteeing greater checks and balances. At one point, it seemed that The Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) might slip below the 10 percent representation level, possibly giving the AKParty a constitutional majority. This would not have been well received by the market or the Kurds. Instead, the AKParty short of the constitutional majority may just be a sweet spot of sorts — especially with the HDP returned to parliament. Markets have already responded positively, though words of moderation and compromise from Erdoğan are required to cement forward progress.

Stability is king.

The AKParty argued from the beginning that stability was in everyone’s interest given all the blowback from Syria. They also claimed that the increased violence resulted from not having strong single-party rule. This AKParty narrative, despite all the internal challenges and contradictions, ultimately won the day. With this resounding victory, the crucial domestic question now is if Erdoğan will accept the parliamentary system and his role within it or if he will try to amend the constitution for a presidential system, only leading to further instability. It could get a lot worse before it gets better, but there is hope that this resounding victory will allow the Turkish government to take less polarizing steps, work more closely with Europe on the refugee issue, and work with the United States on counter-terrorism in the region.

Davutoglu is the leader to watch in Turkey.

The election results have established Ahmet Davutoğlu as a leader in his own right as he steps outside of his political master’s shadow, and he may challenge Erdoğan. Prior to Sunday, even AKParty members were looking to former President Abdullah Gul as the best hope to challenge Erdoğan, but now all eyes are on the prime minister. The big question for everyone is whether they are playing a version of Russia’s Medvedev-Putin or if the AKParty leader can be his own man. The first major chance to observe the dynamics will be in Davutoğlu’s cabinet designations and at the G20, where Erdoğan will host world leaders, but many will arrive interested in talking with Davutoğlu as the man of the hour.

The soul of the country is still contested.

Turkey’s elections were surprisingly decisive in comparison to the last time around, but they are likely to set up a further struggle for the soul of the republic. AKParty-led Ankara will continue its attacks on the self-proclaimed Islamic State group and the PKK, but most likely it will go through a period of domestic consolidation and re-evaluation of its strategy. Turkey now has a chance to work with its transatlantic allies as its neighborhood continues to disintegrate. Moving beyond the hurt feelings and partisan bad blood will allow Turkey’s leaders to rise to the imminent challenges facing their nation.

Dr. Joshua W. Walker is a Transatlantic Fellow at The German Marshall Fund (GMF) and a former Senior Advisor at the U.S. Department of State. This article was first published by the GMF.

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