Beyond Kemalism

Yemen Observer, Yemen
Aug 4 2007

Beyond Kemalism

Written By: Ömer Erzeren
Article Date: Aug 4, 2007 – 6:08:07 AM

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Political calm has returned to Turkey following the massive election
victory of the conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP).
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s party won almost 47% of the votes and
now holds a wide majority in parliament. Every second voter chose the
AKP. During the last elections held in 2002, by contrast, only 34% of
Turks voted for the party. The election results are a slap in the
face for the military and opposition parties, who thought they could
score with nationalist slogans and militaristic poses. The military
had rattled its sword against the government.

Both the military and the opposition parties joined forces in
preventing parliament from electing Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül,
the AKP’s preferred candidate, to the post of president. The strategy
of the general staff was to force the AKP into submission with
threats. The election has given them their comeuppance. At the same
time, the election results also served as a referendum on the
military’s desire to intervene in state affairs. In addition, the
results have put to rest the lie that the AKP is merely an obscure
Islamic secret society. If the regional voting patterns are carefully
analyzed, it becomes clear that the AKP has succeeded in becoming a
national popular party. Ethnic and religious affiliations played much
less of a role than in previous Turkish elections.

Armenians and Alawites were also among AKP voters. Even the number of
Kurds supporting the party rose dramatically. The party garnered
votes from across all social classes. The times are long gone since
the AKP was primarily the party of upwardly mobile Islamic Anatolian
businessmen and it fished for votes in the poor quarters of the
country’s larger cities. The party has seen a breakthrough in both
working class and middle class districts. This is reflected in the
composition of the AKP parliamentary group, which is,
correspondingly, very ideologically heterogeneous.

It includes members such as the social democrat Ertugrul Günay, who
stresses the importance of state directed social policies, the
left-wing liberal constitutional lawyer Zafer Üskül, who wants to
remove all anti-democratic articles from the constitution, as well as
parliamentarians who began their political careers as cadres of the
Islamic movement. What unifies the AKP is pragmatism. It has a
pro-European course, liberal economic policies, and wants to
integrate the Turkish market into the capitalist global economy. Such
a program requires the dismantling of the state apparatus, which not
only used to control the economy, but also determined the political
and ideological pillars of the system.

The old Kemalist apparatus has already been toppled in the economic
sphere. It is now set to lose control of politics. One of its last
bastions remains the army. The new government has no plans to storm
this bastion, but aims to weaken its power step-by-step. The election
results offer Turkey an opportunity. One example is the unresolved
Kurdish conflict. The Kurdish Democratic Society Party will be able
to build a parliamentary group with its 21 members. The candidate
Sebahat Tuncel, who sat in prison during the election campaign for
her support of the banned PKK, will take up a seat in parliament. For
the first time since 1993, the Kurds have their own voice in
parliament. Yet, the results also present a great danger.

The newly found strength of the AKP will be difficult to control.
Despite this transformation, the party leadership is still in the
hands of men who entered politics to promote Islamic values. A strong
parliamentary opposition is needed. Deniz Baykal’s Republican
People’s Party (CHP) received almost 21% of the vote – a bitter
defeat. With Baykal (`The cement holding our society together is
nationalism.’) at the helm, the once social democratic leaning party
has nothing to counter the AKP’s political project other than the
claim that the CHP will remain true to the state.

A ruling party, however, has no political future in Turkey. More than
ever before, the country needs a democratic left-wing party as a
counterbalance to the AKP. The future will show if the CHP is
prepared to undergo such a transformation. Otherwise, Turkey is faced
with being effectively ruled by a one party regime.