In Turkey vote, a window on common identity

A Nov. 1 election may confirm a trend seen in a June vote that Turkey may be joining those democracies finding unity on civic values. Will membership in the European Union follow?

In Istanbul, Turkey, Selahattin Demirtas, (C) co-chairman of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democracy Party, talks with family members of a victim of the Oct. 10 bomb blasts that killed at least 97 people in the capital Ankara.

For all their divisiveness, elections are a window on a country’s ability to form a civic identity, one that rises above creed, tribe, race, or ethnicity. The United States began on this inclusive basis. In Asia, Indonesia stands out in uniting a diverse people under secular values. In Africa, Tanzania is a model in shaping a common identity despite having a mixed population of Muslims and Christians. .

Turkey is now the place to watch in this global trend toward binding a particular people along shared principles of governance. In June, this pivotal nation between East and West held an election in which voters largely went against the Turkish-Islamic nationalism of the ruling Justice and Development Party of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. But the big surprise was a 13 percent showing for the Peoples’ Democratic Party. Its origins lie in representing the minority Kurds. Yet its leader, Selahattin Demirtas, convinced enough non-Kurds – mainly young, urban, and middle class – that he represents a break from old divisions. Dubbed the Obama of Turkey, he emphasizes an identity formed by peace, human rights, a distribution of power, and a respect for minorities.

“Our aim is to create a broader movement and to do this on the basis of Kurds and Turks living together in peace,” Mr. Demirtas says.

Now a follow-up election on Nov. 1 will again test Turkey’s progress to define its politics in secular and nonauthoritarian terms despite cultural and other differences that exist in society.

The sudden rise of Demirtas has also caught the eye of many European leaders, who have been reluctant to push for Turkey’s membership in the European Union. In recent weeks, Germany has sought Turkish help to curb the flow of Syrian refugees into Europe, but while doing so it also revived the opportunity to begin talks on Turkey joining the EU. (Turkey has been a longtime member of NATO.)

The EU’s 28 members have spent decades forming common bonds beyond national and religious differences. Membership for Turkey, if it succeeds, would be a bold extension of the EU’s success and build on Turkey’s latest steps toward inclusive democracy. Sometimes elections are worth watching for how they unify more than they divide.

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