Democracy, Turkey's Double Edged Sword.
By Nicole Dweck
While the Bush administration touts its agenda of "democracy building" as the way forward for nations of the world, we've seen time and time again, fledgling democratic systems high-jacked by political groups whose agendas seem less than "democratic." Today, many secularists fear that Turkey's Islamic-rooted AKP party , though publicly endorsing secularism, may have a hidden islamist driven agenda.
Now, the Turkish army is being pressured by Washington, and E.U officials, to stand down, and take no action against the AKP party, Turkey's Islamic-oriented ruling party, if it wants to be considered for membership in the European Union.
The most recent political firestorm in Ankara came about when the Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, ( a former member of the Islamic-rooted Welfare Party) announced his endorsement of Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, another religious Muslim of the Islamic-oriented AKP party, as President. In an 1995 interview with The Guardian , Gul, then deputy chairman of the Welfare Party, was said to have stated " This is the end of the republican period...the secular system has failed and we definitely want to change it, " Today, he denies ever having made that statement , and in a recent interview with Newsweek, stated, "We have worked harder than any party in Turkey's history to make Turkey a member of the EU. Why would we do this if we are trying to Islamize Turkey?" His wife, a devout Muslim who wears a head cover, says that she is a staunch supporter of gender equality, and would work hard to promote women's political and legal rights if her husband was president. And yet, confusion and frustration over Gul as a potential president led the minister to step down from the running platform.
With an impressive 5.2% GDP Growth rate, the AKP party is credited with Turkey's stellar economic strides and maintains that they are a fierce proponent of economic liberalism. Today, the party also maintains that they have no agenda to convert Turkey into a Shariah-oriented political system, although secular opponents have their doubts. According to the Turkish Daily News, in 1995, Erdogan was quoted as having said “Democracy is like a streetcar. You ride it until you arrive at your destination and then you get off.” It was also reported that Erdogan's undersecretary that same year stated that it was necessary to replace secularism and republicanism with a more participatory, Islamic system. Until now, several AKP attempts to dissolve Turkey's secular nature have been kept in check by the Turkish military, "the absolute defender of Secularism," and by veto powers afforded the President, a position currently occupied by a member of Turkey's secular, opposition party.
Currently, the Islamic oriented AKP party holds a majority in Parliamentary seats, which would, under normal circumstances, ensure parliamentary election of one of the party's members to be elected into the position of president. In the most recent run, the secular opposition boycotted the vote over Abdullah's Gul's candidacy for President, leading the constitutional court to decide that the ballot was invalid. Although Turkey's presidency is a largely ceremonial position, the president has some veto powers, and is technically the leader of the Turkish army. Many fear that an Islamic oriented President, would compromise the army's duty as the "defender of secularism," which has the potential to devastate Turkey's delicate checks and balances system. The political turmoil has led Prime Minister Erdogan to call for early parliamentary elections which will be held on July 22nd.
Since the turmoil began, over a million pro-secular Turks have taken to the streets voicing their concern over the situation. Confusion and distrust swell amongst Turkey's secular ranks, but the facts cannot be ignored. The AKP has maintained strong ties with Israel, and has done more to help Turkey's economic growth and ascension to the E.U than any other party in the Republic’s history.
Since 1960, the military has intervened in Turkish politics three times in defense of secularism, which is enshrined as the bedrock of the nation's political system, laid out in the preamble of the republic's constitution.
And yet, the E.U has warned that the Turkish military should not intervene in civilian rule, (which it may be compelled to do, if an Islamic-oriented, AKP member is elected president in the July 22nd election). As Turkey attempts to become a member of the European Union, the EU statement clearly complicates matters, and compliance has the potential to endanger the country's checks and balances system, which could potentially lead to the Islamic party’s absolute, uncontested rule. On the other hand, a military coup might just as well be a stumbling block in the way of Turkey's efforts at true, pluralistic, democracy, if Gul is fairly elected president either through Parliamentary or popular election.
Tags: Turkey , Erdogan , E.U , Gul
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.