11/10/2015 11:51 EST | Updated 11/10/2016 05:12 EST

A Tale Of Two Elections: Canada And Turkey

Two weeks, two elections. October 19th and November 1st are dates that marked the respective political histories of Canada and Turkey. Both countries elected majority governments defying the many pollsters and pundits that predicted the emergence of minority governments. In both cases the ruling parties (the Conservatives in Canada and the AKP-Justice and Development Party in Turkey) were in power for more than two terms (in Turkey's case the government called a snap election after five months of minority rule).

During the election campaigns, leaders of the ruling parties hoped to benefit from a divided political opposition. At the front of each campaign, many voters in Canada and Turkey hoped for minority governments to fend majorities with leaders they mistrusted with too much authority.

Both Turkish and Canadian voters were quite preoccupied by economic stability and national security in the face of ongoing global turbulence. Leaders of the ruling parties in Canada and Turkey both insisted with the electorate that only they could guarantee real stability. The strategy paid off for AKP in Turkey but it didn't work for Canada's Conservatives.

Both countries have political parties that are viewed as being on the right or left of the ideological spectrum. The AKP was initially positioned in the centre but moved to the right to become closer to where most Turks stand. In Canada the centrist Liberal party has historically enjoyed considerable electoral success and ended up forming the majority government on October 19. There are also minority "nationalist" political parties in both countries with a Kurdish party in Turkey and the Bloc Quebecois in Canada. An important difference between the two is that the leaders of Turkey's Kurdish party desire greater autonomy while the "Bloquiste" leadership ultimately seeks separation from Canada.

Readers familiar with politics in the two countries will undoubtedly insist that any comparisons between the two countries are highly problematic. Turks will likely point to geo-political realities that differ fundamentally from what Canadians encounter. Conflict zones are in driving distance from much of Turkey.

In 2013 the Turkish Foreign Minister (now Prime Minister) vowed a policy of "zero or no problems with neighbours" but instead they have neighbours with a lot of problems. There's the potent threat from ISIS nearby and hundreds of thousands of refugees streaming into Turkey as a consequence of the conflict in neighbouring Syria. There are regular disputes with Iraq and Iran. Armenia has no official relations with Turkey. Although relations with Greece are stable, there is a need for ongoing attention. Opportunities abound for Turkish political leaders to exploit the real and perceived insecurities felt by the population.

By contrast, Canada has enjoyed over two centuries of good relations with its American neighbours. Occasional differences of opinion with the United States must seem frivolous to many Turks given ongoing threats in their very volatile part of the world. Threats to Canada's borders would not be regarded as comparable.

But the most important difference between Canada and Turkey is in the respective state of democracy in the two countries. Democratic freedoms are fragile in Turkey. In the purported defence of its security, the Government is quite ready and able to curtail freedom of expression and certain unsympathetic press has been a particular target. Much of the public appears willing to look the other way and/or offer justification for actions that would not pass the muster in western democracies. Here again the threats to fundamental rights in Canada might seem benign to many Turks. There is nonetheless much to be learned from our respective experiences and we should seize the many available opportunities for dialogue between Turks and Canadians.


Justin Trudeau 2015