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Turkey’s choice: EU or Putin norms 7 avril 2014

Posted by Acturca in Turkey / Turquie.
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Today’s Zaman (Turkey) Monday, April 7, 2014, p. 15

Şahin Alpay

Turkey, during the first two terms of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in power, managed to leave behind the military-bureaucratic tutelage over democracy, if not constitutionally then in practice. The main struggle for Turkey in the third term of AKP power is to prevent democracy from turning into the tyranny of the majority.

The AKP, or rather Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, scored a resounding victory in the local elections held last week by managing to garner 43.5 percent of the national vote despite a campaign dominated by grave corruption allegations that involve him, his family and certain politicians and businessmen in his close circle. Many factors surely help to explain this achievement. It appears that many citizens have chosen to overlook the corruption allegations in light of the fact that the country became more affluent and freer in the first two terms of the AKP government. It also appears that as long as the economy is faring well, corruption allegations are not taken seriously by many.

These were, after all, local elections, and it is quite clear that the municipalities run by the AKP are seen to be more successful than the others. It can also be said that a portion of the voters has indeed been fooled into believing that the corruption allegations were fabricated, as is claimed by Erdoğan.

Resentment over the nearly half-century of pressure on and restriction of religious and ethnic rights imposed by the military-bureaucratic elites committed to Kemalism and fear of its return must have played a central role in the people’s choice. This surely is a lesson for those hard-line secularist nationalists among the ranks of the main opposition parties who yearn for a return to Kemalism.

Erdoğan has indeed scored a big election victory considering the circumstances under which the campaign was fought, but the fact remains that his party garnered roughly 6.5 percent less of the vote when compared with the general elections three years ago. Erdoğan’s support base has shrunk significantly and is likely to further shrink in the coming presidential elections this summer and the general elections next year. The fact that Erdoğan conducted the election campaign almost on his own, without much help from other prominent party members, has led to a questioning of the identity of Erdoğan and the party he leads. The setting of his victory speech seemed to be quite symbolic of the growing divide in the ranks. Erdoğan appeared on the balcony of his party headquarters not with other leading members of his party, but mainly with family members and former ministers charged with corruption.

The aftermath of the elections has indicated the growing distance between the positions taken by Prime Minister Erdoğan and President Abdullah Gül, as the former equates democracy with “popular will” while the latter emphasizes that democracy also means the rule of law. Gül hailed the Constitutional Court decision to lift the ban on Twitter while Erdoğan declared it to be against the national interest. Whether the norms of the European Union or of Russian President Vladimir Putin will eventually prevail in Turkey is the question brought to mind by the increasingly apparent conflict between their respective positions.

The election campaign has also led to a questioning of the relationship between the AKP and Islam. Even the most ardent supporters of Erdoğan demand that the former ministers charged with corruption be properly prosecuted and the former minister who allegedly made fun of Islamic values be expelled from the party. It has become clearer than ever that Erdoğan uses Islamic populism to gain votes and that not even the Islamist designation fits him properly.

Perhaps most importantly, the debates in the local election campaigns gave indications that support for secularism in the sense of full respect for freedom of religion and conscience is on the rise. Many devoutly religious Muslims seemed to grasp that freedom of religion and conscience can only be secured in a regime in which religion and the state are separate. Many Kemalists, that is authoritarian secularists, on the other hand, seem to have had an opportunity to better understand that being a devout Muslim is not at all identical with being an Islamist and that some of these devout Muslims strongly embrace democracy and the rule of law.


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