Turkey’s new parliament convenes after Erdogan party win

tayyip erdoganTurkey’s new parliament, dominated by the Justice and Development Party (AKP), was sworn in on Tuesday two weeks after the party of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan regained the overall majority it had lost five months ago.

The AKP’s resounding victory in a November 1 general election gave the party a renewed mandate to govern without any coalition partners.

Erdogan was to meet Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu later Tuesday to task him with forming a new government, which is expected to be announced on Wednesday.

Turkey’s oldest lawmaker, 77-year-old opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) member Deniz Baykal, presided over the opening session pending the election of a new speaker.

With Erdogan looking on, Baykal called for reconciliation in the majority Muslim country, which has been plagued by violence over the past few months, leaving many sections of society — minority Kurds, Islamists, secular Turks — at odds.

Wearing the traditional tailcoat and white bowtie of the Turkish speaker, he also invited the lawmakers to swear “loyalty to the secular and democratic Turkish republic.”

But tensions rose when pro-Kurdish MP Leyla Zana began her oath with “Biji Asiti”, or “Long live peace” in Kurdish. The phrase triggered a storm that recalled her memorable swearing-in 24 years ago when she also spoke the language that was then still taboo in public.

Zana, an iconic activist who spent 10 years in jail for her links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), also changed the wording of “Turkish people” in the parliamentary oath to the “people of Turkey.”

Baykal asked Zana to recite her oath again, but she declined to do so, walking out in protest.

Zana, the first Kurdish woman to enter parliament, unleashed a storm in 1991 when she said she took the oath under duress and added a message of peace in Kurdish.

Turkey is wrestling with deep ethnic, political and religious divisions that have been exacerbated by a renewed conflict between the state and Kurdish separatists as well as a wave of bloody attacks blamed on Islamic State jihadists.

The AKP won almost half the popular vote to secure 317 seats in the 550-member parliament, more than enough to form a government on its own.

The result is a huge personal victory for Erdogan, who may now be able to secure enough support for his controversial ambitions to expand his role into a powerful US-style executive presidency.

The CHP won 134 seats, while the pro-Kurdish HDP — which scored a historic breakthrough in June elections by becoming the first party representing Turkey’s largest minority to enter parliament — won 59 seats, down from 80 five months ago.

The nationalist MHP won only 40 seats, half the number it picked up in June.

The number of AKP seats still falls short of the 367 needed to change the basic law to endow Erdogan with full executive powers.

Analysts are expecting the party to court support for constitutional reform from the MHP, which shares its conservative and religious outlook.

Meanwhile, speculation is mounting that Erdogan’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak could be given a key job in the new cabinet.

Albayrak, who was first elected to parliament in June, accompanied Erdogan during a tete-a-tete with US President Barack Obama at last weekend’s G20 summit in the Turkish resort of Antalya.

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