Consequences of Eliminating a Popular Movement

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Soheila Mohammadian

Turkey's constitutional court began deliberating a proposal to ban the country's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and is expected to announce its historic ruling within the next few days.

(The Constitutional Court is considering whether the country's ruling party should be banned on charges that it is moving the secular nation towards Islamic rule).

What is the significance of the verdict by Turkey’s highest court in response to the call for dissolution of the ruling party which has caused so much tension and commotion in the political and economic scenes of Turkey and that too in a country where the issue of party dissolution has become something routine!

Perhaps the difference of this historic juncture in Turkey compared to the past lies in this remark of Turkish Prime Minister and leader of AKP Rajan Tayeb Erodgan that “what is happening in Turkey today are agonies caused by change.” Certain famous Turkish writers and analysts such as Ahmet Altan too believe in this transition period and say the Turkish society is going through a deep transformation.

When Turkey’s first Islamist coalition government led by Necmettin Erbakan collapsed in the February 28, 1997 coup d’etat known as the “white coup”, the era for red coup d’etats had come to an end in Turkey and many other parts of the world.

Some observers call the actions taken by Turkey’s secular judges and prosecutors against the ruling party in 2008 a “coup d’etat of the judiciary”. The aim of this kind of action is that the role of the army within red or white coups would look less important and justify dissolution of the ruling party which is powerfully holding up at the top of the state, by interfering the elements of law and the judiciary.

However, with the disclosure of a dreadful secret network called `Ergenekon’ and the arrest of some of its leaders including a number of retired army generals who intended to overthrow the government and assassinate several political, cultural and religious figures, the course of the efforts to dissolve the ruling party once again assumed the color of traditional coup scenarios. In other words, the mass arrest of Ergenekon leaders in a number of Turkish cities and the presence of Abdul Rahman Yalcinkaya, the Chief Prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals at the constitutional court to defend his indictment against the ruling party could not be regarded as mere coincidence.

The recent huge demonstrations held in a number of Turkish cities against coup d’etats and coup plotters during which demonstrators put an end to their century-long silence vis-à-vis such events, indicates that Turkey is entering a new era of its socio-political life. As put by Altan, the people of Turkey are already feeling the need for a political refinement. There are also speculations regarding the nature of confrontations between Turkey’s social forces and security power networks.

Some with a political view opine that unlike the past, today’s dispute is not over political power between the right and left poles. They say there is a strong dispute now between the two laic and pro-government factions on the one hand and the freedom-seeker, pro-human rights and democratic faction on the other though there are new political figures in both factions.

Advocates of this point of view believe that since the pro-government laics have lost strongholds such as the parliament, the presidential palace and the prime minister’s office, they have turned to Ergenekon operations.

There is also an economic outlook which believes that the pro-government laic faction is not only worried about consolidation of political status of the Islamists in Turkey but also about strengthening of their economic position. Advocates of this outlook say the recent political developments and disputes in Turkey are somehow related to the challenge posed to the traditional capitalism ruling over Istanbul by the petit bourgeois which is gradually becoming more powerful in Anatolia.

According to this theory, traditional capitalism in Istanbul represented by TUSIAD (Turkish Industrialists and Businessmen’s Association) which controls almost half of Turkey’s GDP wants to maintain the traditional structure of Turkey in a way that it would serve the trend of Ankara’s integration with the West. But the Anatolia capitalism the most important representative of which is MUSIAD (Independent Industrialist and Businessmen’s Association) -- a rival of TUSIAD and supporter of the Islamists -- is a staunch proponent of the transition to democracy, breaking the monopoly of capital in Turkey, elimination of the economic gap between the east and the west of the country and integration with the world while preserving national and moral values. Advocates of this point of view maintain that one of the reasons behind the attempt to dissolve the ruling party is the dispute between these two capitalist sectors of Turkey. Italian daily la repubblica in a recent report analyzing “Europe’s economic giants” carries a report under the title of “Turkey’s Miracle: Islam, Turbocapitalism” which talks about the excessive growth of Islamist capitalists in Turkey and says the operation of this class has caused a big economic leap in Turkey.

Some others are convinced that the dispute over dissolution of the ruling party is a politico-ideological one and are very unhappy with the spread of Islamism in Turkey which is showing itself in the form of growing numbers of mosques and more women wearing headscarves. They say these are all caused by the efforts of the ruling party to grant more freedom of expression and launch certain political reforms. One such person is Vural Savas, former chief prosecutor who had called for dissolution of the then Islamist ruling party, Rifah (Welfare) which eventually led to the fall of Erbakan government. Savas maintains that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) too supports the sharia and nurtures Turkish radicals and must therefore be disbanded.

Irrespective of other viewpoints in this respect, the important thing is the problems and consequences of possible dissolution of AKP, namely:

  • Disruption in the trend of democracy in Turkey and further restriction of freedom of religion and conscience. The initial damage of such a decision would be inflicted on Turkey’s political forces. The move would also have a message for other parties: abandon reform-based solutions. Turkey is a politically multiple society and elimination of a democratic force would cause disruptions in the trend of parties becoming rooted;
  • A new image of demarcation between the government and the state in Turkey;
  • Relegation of the Kurdish issue to military bureaucracy which maintains a security outlook in this respect;
  • Disruption in the trend of negotiation on Turkey’s EU membership particularly that Olli Rehn, EU Enlargement Commissioner has stated that the only grounds for considering a ban on a political party were if it practiced or advocated violence or sought the violent overthrow of the democratic system which were not the case with AKP;
  • Disruption in the trend of economic growth and development of Turkey;

Now Turkey seems to have two options: First, acceptance of the condition caused by what the laics and the military demand, namely the same closed political society which underlines the traditional paradigms; second submission to democratic changes the Erdogan government has been implementing step by step in the political, social and economic fields.

In addition to the middle class who call for these changes while preserving national and moral values, a new generation of politicians and entrepreneurs have surfaced in Turkey who while safeguarding the cultural and intellectual identity of the country, are rapidly moving towards global integration and merger of the Turkish economic into global economy and this cannot be in compliance with the traditional paradigms in Turkey. AKP leader Erdogan is the spokesman of this current who believes even in case the party is dissolved Turkey would be able to leave behind these painful and unstable times because Turkey moves in line with democratic principles.


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