Sailing through turbulence

Monday, June 20, 2005


Opinion by Doğu ERGİL


There was lot of talk about Turkey's slackening of preparations for
the start of EU membership talks. There were times when the political
actors seemed to turn to internal politics under the spell of a common
disillusionment with European demands that were found to be unfair and
unwarranted. Hardships to be experienced during the accession
negotiations, a difficulty in adapting to the degree of recognition
and the disheartening resistance of many European peoples and elites
to Turkey's membership all added up to the making of this sour feeling
and attitude. The passive but continuous resistance of Turkish
nationalists and state worshippers acting out of fear of losing their
privileges and relative unaccountability in a system that is neither
responsive to popular demands nor fully transparent must also be

All of a sudden the dominant actors on the Turkish political scene,
such as the civilian bureaucracy and the military together with a
section of the mainstream media, which has backed up the government's
European vocation in the recent past, have began to escalate their
criticism of the incumbent Justice and Development Party (AKP)
government. The president of the republic lent weight and clout to
this bunch with his latest demarches.

President Sezer recently issued a public declaration in which he
announced the number of government proposals to assign officials to
various official posts in the bureaucracy and with reasons he blocked
them when they were submitted for his approval. Mr. Sezer has turned
down 251 formal government appeals. This is a substantial number,
indicating a major schism between the AKP government, or the main
political actor, and the presidency, which represents the state, the
body of the unelected, the power of which is no less than the
popularly elected branch of government. This is a form of castration,
or trimming down, of the powers of the government, and here is the
president's justification: 58 of the officials proposed for
bureaucratic posts did not have the necessary experience. Thirteen of
them had legal obstructions. Seventeen did not possess the legal
qualifications to hold the proposed position. What about the remaining
163 who were vetoed by the president? There is no mention of their
presidential rejection. The obvious reason, then, is ideological
resistance to the spawning of the AKP government, which is still
suspected by the `state' of a `hidden agenda' to undermine the present
structure of the secular nation-state. You may read this as a
top-heavy bureaucratic system where the state has primacy over the
nation and the bureaucracy controls social change, the judicial
process, security issues and internal and international affairs to a
great extent.

Such friction between the state and government is indicative of a
serious gap between the political process shaped by rule of law and a
bureaucratic centralism that borders on arbitrariness guided by
ideology (a blend of nationalism, centralism and statism). That
ideological framework emanates from the supremacy of the state and its
privileged position in shaping the nation (considered as an
undifferentiated, solidaristic, monolithic body) and its
deeds. Politics that emanate from popular demands and popular
preferences are secondary to this kind of statecraft and the political
cultural it is based on. This relationship, or reality, becomes more
obvious as the government, the elected part of the executive, loses
its grip in and over the system.

Viewing it from this perspective, the eruption of a barrage of
criticism and pseudo internal frictions based on the headscarf issue,
government initiatives to assign personnel to official posts, Abdullah
Ocalan's retrial as recommended by the European Court of Human Rights
and a forced debate by some European circles on Turkey as to what
happened to the Armenians at the time of the demise of the Ottoman
Empire (early 20th century) must have been no coincidence. If it is no
coincidence, what is the rationale behind such a tactical move?

One strong or determining reason must be the upcoming presidential
elections in 2007. With its two-thirds domination in the parliamentary
arithmetic, the AKP will be able to select a president from among its
ranks. (Presidents are elected within Parliament in the Turkish
political system. Initially, candidates for parliamentary seats were
hand picked by the ruling party to guarantee a monolithic political
process that was disrupted after the inception of multi-party politics
in 1950). The obvious candidate for the next Turkish president is
Mr. R.T. Erdogan, the incumbent prime minister. His religious
background, which surfaced during his insistence on penalizing
extramarital relationships at a very critical juncture of EU-Turkish
relations that could have been as make or break for the process of
granting Turkey a starting date for accession talks, his unpredictable
initiatives in international relations, his cocky mannerisms in
internal politics and his parochialism, reflected in the attire of his
family's women, fall short of the republican elite's worldly and
predictable leadership style, which does not lose elbow contact with
the state, are sufficient reasons to keep him away from the seat of
Ataturk, who still sets the standards of statesmanship in Turkey. The
STATE does not want Mr. Erdoğan or another AKP member to be the
next president of Turkey.

The abundance of controversy on this issue these days emanates from
this fact, and it is very likely that there will be no end to it any
time in the near future.

What will happen then? Mr. Erdogan's realization that he is losing the
support of the United States, without which he cannot keep the economy
in shape and be effective on either the European front or in the
Middle East, forced his hand to repair damaged relations with the
United States. He saw this as necessary because he has increasingly
realized that the way to Europe is long and arduous. At the same time
he has realized that slackening relations with Europe were detrimental
to the only sound political platform that his party/government shared
with other, mostly adverse, groups in the country. That is why the
delayed appointment of the chief negotiator with the EU has lately
been realized in a jiffy. Now he is faced with the challenge of early
elections, which the adversaries of an AKP government will push him
into. These adversaries are aware that the next AKP group in
Parliament will be smaller than of today, although the party will
emerge victorious from the elections in the absence of any other
viable alternative. A smaller AKP parliamentary group will run into
difficulties in naming the next Turkish president, especially if it
faces problems of legitimacy and representation. (Even today the AKP
dominance in Parliament is based on one-third of the electorate's
support due to the vagaries of an electoral system that favors the

There are rough times ahead in Turkish politics, not all of which will
be that rational or savory. Let us wait and see.

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress