From Ke­mal to Er­do­gan

Kathimerini English - - Front Page - BY NIKOS KON­STAN­DARAS

The Turk­ish elec­tions on June 12 will de­ter­mine our neigh­bor’s po­lit­i­cal fu­ture and Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan’s place in his­tory. Sink­ing in our own cri­sis, we are at risk of ig­nor­ing sig­nif­i­cant de­vel­op­ments around us – in­clud­ing the Turk­ish prime min­is­ter’s emer­gence as his coun­try’s most im­por­tant po­lit­i­cal fig­ure since its founder, Mustafa Ke­mal Ataturk. He has risen tri­umphant over the sec­u­lar regime that Ke­mal es­tab­lished and is head and shoul­ders above ev­ery other Turk politi­cian of his gen­er­a­tion. Un­der Er­do­gan, Tur­key has made great strides to­ward re­form – from the hege­mony of the mil­i­tary and eco­nomic prob­lems it has be­come a re­gional eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal power. The ques­tion is whether Er­do­gan’s in­creas­ingly au­to­cratic ways will help or hin­der his coun­try’s fur­ther progress. Tur­key has changed rad­i­cally since Er­do­gan’s Jus­tice and De­vel­op­ment Party (AKP) was elected in 2002. The re­li­giously in­clined leader had to draw on great re­serves of courage and de­ter­mi­na­tion to face down the es­tab­lish­ment’s ef­forts to ban both the party and its leader, and he gained the pub­lic’s sup­port. In the 2007 elec­tions the AKP got 46.7 per­cent, and, in Septem­ber’s ref­er­en­dum, 58 per­cent of vot­ers backed Er­do­gan’s calls for con­sti­tu­tional re­form. The na­tional assem­bly that will emerge from the June 12 elec­tions will draft the first Turk­ish con­sti­tu­tion that is not the prod­uct of a mil­i­tary gov­ern­ment (as in 1924, 1961 and 1982). And yet, no party has un­veiled its pro­pos­als for the new con­sti­tu­tion. Er­do­gan, whose party is ex­pected to win 45-54 per­cent of the vote, is hold­ing his cards close to his chest, but he will no doubt pro­pose the fur­ther weak­en­ing of the mil­i­tary and ju­di­cial authorities’ in­flu­ence. Ke­mal’s party, the Demo­cratic Pop­u­lar Party, is ex­pected to garner about 30 per­cent of the vote. If the na­tion­al­ist MHP falls be­low the 10 per­cent thresh­old for en­try into Par­lia­ment, Er­do­gan’s party may just have the re­in­forced ma­jor­ity that it needs to change the con­sti­tu­tion alone. The MHP was mor­tally wounded by the emer­gence of video­tapes pur­port­ing to show four of its can­di­dates in­volved in ex­tra­mar­i­tal af­fairs. (Sus­pi­cion for their pub­li­ca­tion has fo­cused on the AKP.) Er­do­gan made re­forms that no one af­ter Ke­mal had dared to. Like Ke­mal, he is dy­namic and de­ter­mined, but he is also con­ser­va­tive and re­li­gious. His roots are not in the elite but in the class of marginal­ized, pi­ous Turks who only be­gan to join the main­stream of pub­lic and eco­nomic life in the 1980s, when Premier Turgut Ozal opened up the econ­omy to peo­ple out­side the es­tab­lish­ment. Er­do­gan set Tur­key on course to­ward EU mem­ber­ship, com­man­deer­ing the es­tab­lish­ment’s rai­son d’ etre, and broke the mil­i­tary’s dom­i­nance over pub­lic life. To­day 163 ac­tive of­fi­cers are in prison, fac­ing charges of plot­ting to bring down the gov­ern­ment; eco­nomic re­forms have re­sulted in growth of 9 per­cent; Kurds en­joy un­prece­dented rights and state of­fi­cials are in talks with their jailed leader, Ab­dul­lah Ocalan; Tur­key has de­vel­oped strong ties with all re­gional coun­tries; for­eign pol­icy is in­de­pen­dent of the wishes of the USA. At the same time, how­ever, close to 60 jour­nal­ists are in prison (most for sup­port­ing the Kur­dish cause but six for mat­ters per­tain­ing to curbs on free­dom of speech). Also, Er­do­gan has been acting with in­creas­ing ar­ro­gance. His an­nounce­ment of the pharaonic pro­ject to dig a canal par­al­lel to the Bosporus was pre­sented as a per­sonal is­sue whose de­tails only he needs to know; his se­lec­tion of can­di­dates for the elec­tion re­flects his per­sonal dom­i­nance over the party. As the “Turk­ish model” of a suc­cess­ful mar­riage of Is­lam and a mod­ern so­ci­ety is held up as an ex­am­ple for other Mus­lim coun­tries, one must ex­am­ine whether Er­do­gan’s per­son­al­ity is a cru­cial fac­tor in car­ry­ing out re­forms but also whether it may hin­der greater de­moc­ra­ti­za­tion. Soon we will know whether pa­ter­nal­ism and au­to­cratic ways are the recipe for suc­cess in run­ning coun­tries like Tur­key – and whether, in over­turn­ing Ke­mal’s legacy of a strictly sec­u­lar state, Er­do­gan is his true heir.

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