What is happening in Turkey?

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

Turkish politics is on the brink of a new era as whatever the outcome of the Constitutional Court’s ruling on the Justice and Development Party (AKP), a new political landscape will emerge after the changes are enforced, argues Senem Aydin Düzgit in a 22 May commentary for the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS).

After the AK Party’s general election victory in July 2007, the single-party government began drafting a new constitution promising more civil liberties. However, this was criticised for being a ‘non-transparent’ process, says Düzgit, although it should be “considered as a positive step” considering the previous constitution affirmed the predominance of the state over society. 

The lifting of the headscarf ban is also a positive step but does not go far enough, according to Düzgit, as it was introduced within the broader issues of constitutional reform “suggesting that some freedoms were being ranked above others” – leading to hostility on the party political scene. Yet the AKP did little to reduce these tensions, the author adds. 

Following a government clampdown on a ‘neo-nationalist’ organisation called Ergenekon, which was accused of planning an uprising against the government, the AKP made numerous arrests, including a prominent journalist, says Düzgit, raising concerns about the extent of the arrests. This led to the AKP being taken to court by the Chief Prosecutor and threatened with closure for activities against secularism. 

The AKP responded by saying the charges were politically motivated because the Court agreed on them unanimously, continues Düzgit, who believes the court case could last up to the next local elections in March 2009.

The author believes the AKP is partly responsible for its own fate, as it gave no “clear general strategy for governing the country”. In addition to this, sections of Turkish society back the court because of the bad press the AKP is receiving, the author says. 

The AKP was perceived as a reformist party when it first came to power, but Düzgit says the change in public opinion happened in 2005 when “the reform process slowed down considerably”. This, says the author, led to disappointment in the EU and among reformers in Turkey. 

The author sees a positive correlation between the closure case and the upswing in recent EU-Turkey relations, as the EU made it known to Turkey’s Constitutional Court that the AKP could only be banned if it had overthrown the democratic order of the state by using violence. “These criteria do not justify closing down the AKP,” claims Düzgit. 

As it is generally expected that the AKP will be banned, Düzgit believes that new elections will be held after the party has changed its name, albeit minus a few leaders, including Prime Minister Erdogan, who would be banned for life. However, the author can see the party coming to power again due to the lack of credible opposition. 

If the AKP is banned, the case is likely to go to the European Court of Human Rights who have a track record of overturning banned parties’ cases, says the author. This will serve as a test of the Constitutional Court to see if it is serious in carrying out EU reforms, adds Düzgit. 

If it is not banned, which the author sees as very unlikely, it will give the AKP a chance to reform itself and the country and put European integration back on the political agenda. Düzgit believes Erdogan may choose to align himself with the establishment if he survives the case, which would probably lead to less democratic freedom. 

The author concludes by lamenting the fact that the judiciary “has still not fully purged itself of the entrenched beliefs and attitudes of the state bureaucracy,” declaring that whichever way the court ruling goes, it will herald “a new era in Turkish politics”.

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