A New Reform Era in Turkey?

The Nov. 3 landslide of Turkey's Justice & Development Party (AKP) could usher in a new era of stability. Even though the AKP has its roots in banned Islamist parties, party leaders are stressing that they represent a conservative bloc and not a religious threat to the Muslim world's most secular and democratic nation.

Although it could take weeks to form a government, charismatic party leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan has already said he won't be changing Turkey's pro-Western and pro-NATO policies and will maintain close ties to Israel. Costas Simitis, Prime Minister of rival Greece, was the first foreign leader to congratulate Erdogan, who will be making Athens his first foreign stop since winning the election. By contrast, Necmettin Erbakan, who led an Islamist-dominated government in 1996 and 1997, chose Libya for his first state visit. "That tells you a lot about the AKP's priorities," says David Edgerly, executive director of Istanbul-based Garanti Securities.

Most important, Erdogan has signaled his support for reforms tied to the International Monetary Fund's $16 billion rescue package arranged last year. The real test could come when the government will be forced to shut down state-owned money-losers as part of IMF prescriptions to slash Turkey's public sector workforce. But the AKP's absolute majority could allow it to push through unpopular policies. Turkey's last single-party majority government, under Turgut Ozal in the 1980s, ushered in bold market reforms.

By John Rossant in Paris

Edited by Rose Brady

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