Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Turks Back Democracy and Europe

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 23rd July, 2007

turkish-elections.jpgThere was a resounding endorsement of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in yesterday’s general election. His Justice and Development Party (AKP) won 47% of the vote, giving it a very comfortable majority in parliament. Moreover, the turnout was over 80%, even though many people had to abandon a slice of their summer holidays to take part. It’s a slap in the face for the military, which had been making threatening noises, and for those opposition forces — including ultra-nationalists — who had been wrongly claiming that Mr Erdogan intends to turn the country into an Islamic Republic.

‘We are the strongest advocates of a democratic, secular, social state governed by the rule of law,’ the Prime Minister reassured the public last night. ‘I call on all leaders not to close their doors. Let’s get round a table and discuss the problems of Turkey’s democray and make the rule of law reign.’

There are still dark forces in Turkey which need to be emasculated. And there are many improvements that need to be made in both the letter and the application of the law, relating to freedom of expression and other civil rights. Turkey must also do its part (as must others) to ensure that there is a workable settlement of the longstanding division of Cyprus. But we should welcome the advances that have and are being made. There have been some unhelpfully hostile noises about Turkey’s eventual accession to the European Union from some continental political leaders, who should know better. I, for one, am delighted that this has not dampened Mr Erdogan’s determination to pave the way for Turkey’s EU membership, as a modern, developing, secular state.

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One Response to “Turks Back Democracy and Europe”

  1. This post just repeats the claims of AKP and is not entirely satisfactory as an analysis. Let us hope that Erdogan is 100% sincere in his claims about defending secular democracy. Given his roots in militant religious politics, it is only reasonable to wait to see if events bear out Erdogan’s claims to the full. While the AKP government has largely been moderate and successful, there are at least two instances of religion entering their politics in a way liberals would not welcome. 1. An attempt to criminalise adultery soon after they formed a government. Maybe we can let them off that since it was a few years ago, BUT 2. Darwinism has been somewhat downgraded and non-Darwinian accounts of the origins of life have been somewhat elevated in the school curriculum. Darwinism has not been completely erased but the trend is worrying.

    Let’s look at the broader political picture. You link the ‘ultra-nationalists’ with claims that the AKP wants to impose a religious state. Ultra-nationalists must mean the MHP (Nationalist Action Party), but they did not emphasise such claims. They themselves AGREE WITH AKP on allowing the headscarf in public institutions, and in general they promote a conformist Turkish-Muslim identity. The MHP’s main electoral themes include claims that the world is trying to return to the post WW1 carve up of what is now Turkey and demanding the execution of Abdullah Ocalan. The party which has been campaigning the most on the secular issue is the social-democratic CHP, though their kind of social democracy is tied to traditional elites connected with the secular state. Their is a nationalist element to their politics, but unlike the MHP they do not demand the execution of Ocalan and they support greater powers for local government.

    The AKP itself is not free of ultra-nationalist influences, its parliamentary group includes a contingent from the Grey Wolves, formally known as the Idealist Hearths. This is a youth and social movement of the MHP. Like various other centre-right parties, the AKP has appealed to ultra-nationalist sentiment by putting Grey Wolf alumni on their electoral lists. Apparently the AKP list on this occasion includes an increased number of people from a secular business background and at least one former social democrat politician. That’s good news, but some caution should be employed before leaping into confident predictions that the AKP government will be automatically progressing on a
    European-secular-reformist path. We don’t just have to look at the Grey Wolf alumni to see hard core nationalism in the AKP. Their interior minister Cecik condemned a recent conference on the killings of Armenians in 1915 in very harsh tones. On the religious front he links Darwinism with atheism. Erdogan says some nice things in circumstances where the world is watching, you might find his discourse is more national-religious on other occasions.

    I don’t disagree with the central message of the article. AKP deserve a chance to show what they can do in a second term, and the army should give more trust to civil society and the democratic process. Opposition parties should try to renew themselves. But, more caution and qualification would be welcome. Most liberal minded people in Turkey clearly voted for CHP. They are not ideal liberals at all, but most liberal minded people in Turkey are wary of a party with religious and religious-national roots. They have their reasons. AKP may show off its secular looking female members, but be sure the overwhelming majority are social conservatives. Maybe AKP will succeed in taking those people on the modernist road, but don’t confuse AKP with a liberal party. It’s a party which has mobilised a social conservative base around an EU/IMF orientated reform program which began before they came to power. Let us wait for a genuine liberal party to emerge in Turkey before rejoicing quite so much.

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