Tuesday, July 24, 2007

A Synopsis of Turkey's Political Situation

(Read Cox & Forkum's related commentary and links HERE.)

Now it's official; the AKP Islamist party wins in Turkey. What will this mean for the future of secularism in Turkish government? Why should we care?

For anyone who wants to understand what the political crisis in Turkey is all about, this informative page at MEMRI.ORG by R. Krespin quickly sums up who the major players are, and what the concerns are about. An excerpt:

The Upcoming Elections in Turkey (1): General Background

The AKP's refusal to seek a consensus presidential candidate, its uncompromising effort to appoint "a religious [i.e. Islamist] president" from the AKP ranks, the secrecy surrounding who their candidate would be, and the last-minute announcement of Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul from the Islamist Milli Gorus movement as the candidate, have all pushed Turkey into a political crisis.

Rice shaking hands with AKP member Gul

Millions of Turks participated in demonstrations against the AKP government, its Islamist agenda, the appointment of Islamists to key positions in public institutions, and especially against the attempt to nominate an Islamist presidential candidate - a nomination that would jeopardize Turkey's system of checks and balances, creating a situation where both the prime minister and the president belong to the Islamist camp.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's political moves provoked a controversial memorandum from the Turkish military establishment, which is - traditionally and by the power accorded to it in the constitution - the guardian of the secular regime in Turkey.

On presidential election day, members of the opposition parties boycotted the election by not participating in the first round of the vote, and the necessary quorum of 367 MPs (two thirds of the 550-member parliament) was not reached. The matter ended up in the High Constitutional Court, which decided to annul the first round of the vote.

The mass demonstrations, the memorandum by the military and the High Court's decision forced the AKP to declare early parliamentary elections, to take place on July 22, 2007.

"Turkey: Sweeping Victory For Erdogan's Party".
In this cartoon we see the Red Turkish National Flag turning green (a favored color of Islamist extremists), and Erdogan's face is appearing on the cresent.
Source: Al-Mustaqbal, Lebanon, July 24, 2007

The Political Scene

Turkey's election system - which, during its five years in power, the AKP has refused to change - allows only parties receiving 10% of the vote nationwide to be represented in parliament. This threshold, unusually high for a democracy, keeps many smaller parties out of the legislature. It was this factor that brought the AKP to power in November 2002, when it received a two-thirds majority in parliament while receiving only one-third of the national vote. The only other political party that passed the 10% threshold and gained representation in 2002 was the Republican People's Party (CHP).

This system is now placing all the parties of the fragmented opposition at a disadvantage vis-à-vis the AKP.

To overcome the 10% threshold problem, the center-left CHP and the smaller Democratic Left Party (DSP) merged their lists to run together under the CHP. However, unification efforts by the once-powerful conservative center-right Motherland Party (ANAP) and the True Path Party (DYP) under the new name of Democrat Party (DP) were unsuccessful, and ANAP withdrew from the elections process. This failure to produce a strong center-right alternative will probably prove to be the AKP's biggest advantage in the upcoming elections.

The AKP, for its part, included in its candidate list some well-known names from the center right, and even from the social democrats, with the aim of attracting votes from the nonreligious sector.

Among the CHP candidates are also some leading political figures from the center right, who joined the CHP believing it to be the only secular alternative that could challenge the AKP.

Besides the AKP and the CHP, there is the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which has been gaining ground due to the increasingly nationalist sentiment in the country. The MHP - and to some extent the CHP - are being strengthened by the AKP's failure to deal with increased terrorist activity by the PKK, which claims over 60 lives every month. It is also gaining ground due to the government's hesitation to allow the Turkish military to launch a cross-border incursion into northern Iraq where the PKK is based; and by the daily funerals of terror victims that turn into anti-government protests. [...]

It's worth reading the whole thing. There is a lot of tension in the Turkish political arena right now, and no one is certain how this is going to proceed.

Here is a compilation page showing this and all my other prior posts that talk about or mention Turkey. There are lots of photos from the protests in support of secularism.


Anonymous said...

Isn't it interesting that the WSJ and The Oregonian think that democracy is safe in Turkey based on this election!

Chas said...

Yes! I've tried to see it from that point of view. The secular opposition parties are not all saints, they have had various corruption scandals, etc. The AKP Islamist party does have some positive aspects; they seem to have benefited the economy.

AKP claims to respect Turkey's secular tradition, but do they REALLY? I'm bothered by some of the speeches some AKP members have made to sympathetic Islamist audiences, speeches that were very disparaging to secularism and non-Muslims and so-called "secular" Muslims. That, combined with changes the AKP are trying to make to the constitution, removing safeguards that have kept religion and government separate, are worrisome. It does not look good.