Turkey

Will the government launch an attack to the secular regime?

Wednesday 26 September 2007, by Ceyda Turan

Turkey was marked by political turmoil earlier this spring. Millions poured out to the streets of Turkey to protest the prospect of a president with roots in political Islam. The army issued an e-coup. The main opposition party in parliament Republican People’s Party (CHP) blocked the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) presidential nominee Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül. The constitutional court intervened to annul the elections resulting in a political deadlock. An early general election was called for July 22, 2002. The election was projected as an existential battle between Islamists and secularists by the oppositional forces.

Turkey was marked by political turmoil earlier this spring. Millions poured out to the streets of Turkey to protest the prospect of a president with roots in political Islam. The army issued an e-coup. The main opposition party in parliament Republican People’s Party (CHP) blocked the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) presidential nominee Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül. The constitutional court intervened to annul the elections resulting in a political deadlock. An early general election was called for July 22, 2002. The election was projected as an existential battle between Islamists and secularists by the oppositional forces.

The elections resulted in a resounding victory for the incumbent party. The AKP won 46.7% of the votes securing 61.8% of the parliamentary seats, and formed a single-party government with an even stronger mandate. The term, “one out of every two of us” was coined to refer to AKP supporters. The CHP remained as the second largest party, winning 20.8% of the votes. The only other party that surpassed the 10% electoral threshold was the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which won 14.3% of the votes.

A more heart lifting development than the resurgence of the Nationalist Movement Party was the success of the DPT, the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party. Since 1994, when DEP parliamentarians were jailed for taking the oath of office in Kurdish, Kurds have not been represented in the parliament by pro-Kurdish parties. The DPT candidates ran as independents in order to bypass the 10% national electoral threshold, which does not hold for independents. By doing so, 23 Kurdish candidates entered the parliament and were able to form a parliamentary group.

In addition to the Kurdish candidates another remarkable development was the election of Ufuk Uras, chairman of the Socialist Freedom and Solidarity Party (ÖDP). Knowing that his party would not have bypassed the national electoral threshold, Uras ran independently and became the first socialist to be elected to the parliament after 38 years.

Furthermore, the Democratic Left Party (DSP), which had entered the elections on the list of CHP separated from it, increasing the number of parties in the parliament to six.

Even though, the new parliament is considerably more diverse in ideas and fair in representation of the electorate than the previous one, according to Prof. Keyman, all the parties represented in the parliament are centre-right parties having nationalism as their common denominator whether Turkish or Kurdish. Except for one socialist candidate, the constitution of the assembly does not include leftist values and social democratic ideas.

The electoral success of AKP has demonstrated that a majority of the electorate did not subscribe to the ideological divide fostered by the establishment forces between secularism and Shari ’a. Neither did they approve of the military or bureaucracy’s intervention at the democratic process. Journalist Avni Özgünel says, AKP’s success was primarily a backlash against the intervention of the military and the bureaucracy in the controversial presidential vote.

Concerns such as entry into EU and the stability of the economy outweighed fears of a threat to country’s secular regime. Some commentators focused on the period of high growth and stability that Erdogan’s government enjoyed due to high inflows of foreign capital flows caused by favourable international financial conditions. The electorate despite not reaping the benefits of this growth did not want to risk the overall macroeconomic balance.

Moreover they believed that AKP would take the necessary reforms to secure the country’s entry to the EU. Political analyst Doğu Ergil, said the AKP’s victory was "a vote for stability and continuity". The opposition made AKP’s job easier by playing the secularism card, and not offering solutions to the country’s real troubles such as employment, Kurdish problem and entry into the EU. Whether the AKP will be a source of political reform enlarging freedoms or how long will economic growth based on speculative money flows continue remains to be seen.

The presidential elections

Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül, whose candidacy had caused months of political mayhem in the country, brining Turkey to the brink of another military intervention last spring, swore in as Turkey’s new president on 28 August 2007.

Despite receiving 46.7% of the votes, the AKP could not get 367 seats in the parliament, the quorum requirement for the first two rounds of presidential votes. According to CHP leader Baykal, this would have forced AKP to find a candidate on whom consensus could be reached, if MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli had not announced that his party would take its place in Parliament when the parliamentary session opened for the presidential election. In spite of CHP’s boycott, Abdullah Gül became Turkey’s first head of state who has repeatedly stated in the past that he does not embrace the secular democratic system.

The post of presidency, which by acting as a check and balance to the parliament, has traditionally been regarded as the unassailable fortress of the secular state. The opposition forces, the CHP, the army and the secular, urban middle class view Gül’s presidency as the loss of that fortress. İlhan Selçuk, journalist of the daily Cumhuriyet, wrote “The presidency of Gül is the success of the country-revolutionary forces but the conflict between revolutionary (Kemalist) and counter-revolutionary (Islamic) forces in Turkey has not been resolved yet.”

Selçuk also focused on the international aspect of the elections writing that the electoral success of the AKP and the subsequent ascendancy to the presidency of Abdullah Gül was part of US’s efforts to change Turkey’s regime in order to present it as an example of a moderate Islamic state to the rest of the Middle East.

The army expressed its displeasure on the eve of the presidential vote. Chief-of-Staff Yaşar Büyükanıt declared that "nefarious plans to ruin Turkey’s secular and democratic nature emerge in different forms every day” and that "our nation has been watching the behaviour of centres of evil who systematically try to corrode the secular nature of the Turkish Republic." He did not fail to mention that "the military will, just as it has so far, keep its determination to guard social, democratic and secular Turkey." The generals did not attend Gül’s inauguration ceremony. However, another military coup is highly unlikely, given the lack of social and political support for the military to legitimize its action.

The future

People are now wondering. Will Abdullah Gül be an impartial president, protecting the founding principles of the republic even if they are challenged by the AKP, the party he has co-founded? Or will he remain an adherent of the AKP confirming the fears that the presidential post will be used to undermine the secular regime?

Mr.Gül have been trying to disperse these suspicions around him by saying “I am not playing out, I am a transparent person”. Quoting Gül’s 15 December 2005 speech to the English daily, The Guardian “the end of the secular regime has arrived in Turkey, we certainly want to change the secular system” Prof. Sosyal says that the president will have a hard time changing this sentiment despite all his efforts and promises.

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