The political crisis in Turkey reflects a clash of definition over the very nature of the country, writes Gunes Murat Tezcur in an article for Open Democracy.
Tezcur believes that a convulsive crisis is gripping Turkey in which not only the future political direction of the country and the choice of the next president are at stake, but the fundamental identity of the Turkish state and society. He claims that the outcome of this crisis will determine the evolution of the country for years to come, and will have repercussions far beyond Turkey’s borders.
The crisis – which has exposed the profound rifts in Turkish society – began with the ruling AKP party’s decision to have the new president elected in advance of the parliamentary elections scheduled for November 2007, writes Tezcur. Aware of widespread popular opposition to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s candidacy, the AKP leadership waited until the last moment to make the announcement.
The AKP’s plan failed as hundreds of thousands of secular Turks demonstrated against his candidacy on 14 April – the first in a series of massive demonstrations. Faced with such widespread popular opposition, as an alternative Erdogan opted to promote the candidacy of his foreign minister and ally, Abdullah Gül.
Although reaching a vote in parliament on April 27, the opposition party lodged a complaint in the constitutional court. Meanwhile, the army indicated that it was prepared to intervene in defence of the principle of secularism. The court declared the vote for Gül invalid on May 1. In response, parliament endorsed the AKP’s call for early elections on 22 July.
Although boasting a successful record in many aspects, the AKP party has long had an uneasy relationship with democracy, writes Tezcur, highlighting its exclusion of Kurdish nationalists from parliament, and its consistent rejection of having the president elected by direct popular vote.
Tezcur concludes by declaring that it has become clear that Turkish democracy is far from consolidated, with consensus on even basic constitutional issues non-existent and major political actors having little trust in each other. Meanwhile, the electorate remains fearful of being marginalised by a political system in which the top three elected positions – president, prime minister and speaker of parliament – are all held by the AKP.