Tag Archives: AKP

SPEAKING OF RULE OF LAW AND A GRAND MASTER PLAN

by Daniella Kuzmanovic

The current crisis will be solved within the framework of the constitutional order and the frameworks of the laws. This was the bottom line of the statement from the presidency after the crisis management meeting Thursday the 25th of February in Ankara between President Abdullah Gül, prime minister Recep Tayyıp Erdoğan and chief of general staff İlker Başbuğ. Considering the serious political crises and the way it has rubbed off on the financial markets, it was about high time to send the message that people in and outside Turkey must trust in the political and legal institutions of the country to be able to deal with the crisis. Needless to say that a repetition of the February 21, 2001 incident, where former president Ahmet Necdet Sezer quarreled with then prime minister Bülent Ecevit in the National Security Council  thereby more than adding to a severe financial crises Turkey if not directly setting it off, must be avoided at all costs. This is seemingly recognized by all parties in the political conflict.

 

That the statement centered round the issue of the workings of rule of law and the institutional checks and balances in Turkey should come as no surprise. Not just due to the recent historical experience of 2001. Rather one has to understand how the judiciary is for better and worse the gravity point of the crisis. The question of whose ideological outlook dominates within the judiciary is a key concern by supporters as well as adversaries of the AKP government. The former explains how the judiciary has traditionally been in alignment with the Kemalist etatist elite including the military. The rulings of the Kemalist stong-hold par excellence, the Constitutional court, serve as prime examples. The closure case against AKP and DTP in 2008, and the recent overruling / annulment in January 2010 of the reform package passed by parliament in July 2009, which would among other have allowed civilian courts to prosecute military personnel. Even though this overruling has had limited practical effects, military personnel do in fact face trial by civilian courts in the on-going Ergenekon-Sledgehammer investigations, it has been seen as a strong symbolic support to the conceptualization of some people in Turkey as being above the law in the interest of the nation-state. Hence, they argue that what is in fact going on is democratization and strengthening of rule of law in Turkey. Those adversaries with a more conservative Kemalist leaning lament, how the whole Ergenekon-Sledgehammer case is nothing but a politically initiated witch hunt on behalf of the current government, thus revealing how the AKP has succeeded in a civilian take-over of not only the bureaucracy but also the judiciary. In this context the problematic structuring of the HSYK (Supreme Board of judges and prosecutors) where the minister of justice among other has a seat is presented as one of many examples of the ways in which government can somehow pressure the judiciary.

 

The current case of prosecutor Ilhan Cihaner really shows the intricacies of these relations (intricacies which can barely be disclosed in the brief section that follows but nevertheless). In mid Feburary 2010 Cihaner was arrested and interrogated as part of the Ergenekon case. The arrest was warranted by another prosecutor, Osman Şanal, with special authorities. Cihaner had launched an investigation into an Islamic religious sect in 2007 and later in 2009 attempted to launch an investigation into the Gülen movement. These acts had put him squarely in the secular Kemalist camp who are fighting what they believe is an anti-secular AKP government. Immediately following upon the arrest the HSYK (Supreme Board of judges and prosecutors) removed the special powers of the prosecutor who had had Cihaner arrested. In the light of HSYK being seen as a Kemalist stronghold, this removal was interpreted as the secular Kemalist elite showing its muscle, an opinion among other aired by the ministry of justice. Yet the very same ministry of justice was accused by critics of intervening in order to slow down the removal of Şanal, something which gave him time to forward the investigation file on Cihaner to the courthouse. Meanwhile AKP critics also saw the detainment of Cihaner in the first place as an attempt on behalf of the government to stop any investigations relating to Islamic religious networks. The underlying assumption is of course that such investigations might hurt the ruling party since they have close relations to the Gülen movement and (excuse the expression) God only knows who else.

 

It is easy to get caught up on either side of the polarized debate. There are however also those observers in Turkey who argue for the necessity of once and for all ridding Turkish politics of the legacy of military influence, while simultaneously criticizing the AKP for replacing military tutelage with civilian tutelage. AKP may say that they are acting in the name of democratization but they are not themselves acting as true democrats. On the contrary they are using the existing rules and regulation aimed at state control with civilian politics to consolidate their own power. Upholding the 10 percent threshold in national elections is but one example of this. In this sense AKP follows in the footsteps of a long and by no democratic standards glorious political party tradition in Turkey. It is also in this context that one can hear speculations as to the extent to which government is able to affect the judiciary. Of course there are problematic areas for example regarding the HSYK. But does this simply mean that the continued politicization of the judiciary is the only reasonable explanation to everything that is going on including the arrest of military personnel, or could it be that part of the explanation has to do with circles in the judiciary who are tired of accusations of lack of independence, and tired of a reputation as somebody’s lapdog? Could it be that there are in fact people in the judiciary who act as they do because they pursue a strengthening of rule of law and the separation of powers?

 

Why is it, one may now ask, that this latter seems as such a naïve idea in a Turkish context? This I believe has partly to be explained by how the current tensions and political struggles between various elites have reasserted the prominent and popular notion that all acts are part of a larger master plan. Be it the plan of etatist elements or the AKP, the notion that acts are symbolic representations of a larger strategy and initiated by somebody for some higher purpose is by now the dominant lense through which all things must be interpreted and understood. As if there are not enough threats against the development of a democratic culture in Turkey, this is for sure one more problem to add to a long list.

Where are Turkish swing voters to swing to?

by Daniella Kuzmanovic.

Local elections in Turkey, which were held on Sunday the 29th of March, brought about some interesting results and indications, also concerning the future national political landscape of Turkey. Many of these have already been scrutinized in detail by Turkish press, and I have no intention of repeating their insights in this comment. However, I did find one particular insight from political scientist Doğu Ergil regarding the current character of the centre-right in Turkey worth an additional comment, since it reveals one of the central problems in Turkish party politics today.

In his column ‘Lessons of the elections’ in Today’s Zaman on April 1 Ergil rightly points out that the results reflect how the AKP has become (or at least has become perceived as) a centre-right party. Hence, they stand out in the eyes of a segment of their voters as that which they have always themselves claimed to be, namely a conservative democratic party. Ergil’s analysis is backed by the observation that the right-wing nationalist party (MHP) and the conservative pro-Islamic party (SP) won back some of the more nationalist and religious conservative voters respectively from the AKP. In others words those voters further to the right went back to their roots. As furthermore rightly pointed out by Ergil, this shift must imply that the AKP now fine-tune their agenda in order to meet the expectations of the voters, which did vote for the AKP. Otherwise these votes may be lost by the next general election in 2011.

Centre-right has traditionally been significant in relation to Turkish national politics, since two thirds of Turkish voters have a tendency to vote for parties right of centre and on the far right. One naturally has to be careful with such terms as left and right of centre in Turkish politics. Here it does have some relevance, though. If one goes back to the 1990ies it created huge problems in national politics throughout the decade that the two dominant centre-right parties at the time, The right path party (DYP now DP) and the Motherland party (ANAP), were not able to cooperate, among other due to personal animosities between the respective leaders of the parties, Tansu Çiller and Mesut Yılmaz.

The two parties became hugely discredited throughout the 1990ies due to, among other, corruption and embezzlement charges, inability to carry out effective economic policies, personal animosities. The parties were among the biggest losers in the general election in 2002, when the AKP came to power. Neither DYP nor ANAP were able to pass the 10 percent threshold. Their loss was confirmed in the 2007 national election. The parties formed an election alliance in order to attract voters to the traditional centre-right, but received less than 6 percent of the votes, and were unable to enter parliament. The story of the success of the AKP is thus also the story of the decline of traditional centre-right parties.

This decline of the traditional centre-right was reaffirmed in the local elections yesterday as well. Looking at the results (http://secim2009.ntvmsnbc.com/default.htm) DP (former DYP) continued their downwards slide with regard to total number of voters (local election 2004: 9,97 %, national elections 2007: 5,42 %, local election 2009: 3,72 %). This was also the case for ANAP (local elections 2004: 2,5 %, local elections 2009: 0,76 %).

What does this then tell us, in addition to Ergil’s analysis of the shift towards MHP and SP and the consolidation of AKP as the new centre-right? As I see it, it reminds us that the Turkish voters simultaneously continue to concentrate around a limited number of dominant parties. This should come as no surprise given that the campaign budget and media exposure of parties outside parliament is limited. Never the less we should keep in mind that this voter concentration centers round the very parties, which have not only monopolized but also polarized Turkish political life throughout the past seven years.
One must hope that the level of political tension and polarization in Turkey lessens during the years to come, and that the current party in power seeks to contribute effectively to this. However, where are the centre-right voters to go if the AKP and the opposition parties do not? As seen from previous elections Turkish party politics is highly volatile. Large blocks of voters can, indeed, swing from one party to others in any given election. But with the current condition of the centre-right, and for that matter also the centre-left, in Turkey who are these voters to swing to when only currently four parties remain standing?

Turkey is, as the local elections unfortunately also revealed, still badly in need of new political parties, new political programs, and new politicians.

Lack of coordination in Turkish foreign policy?

Lack of coordination in Turkish foreign policy, or the revival of a familiar division of labor?

by Daniella Kuzmanovic.

Friday the 27th of March brought to the fore two contrasting answers to the question of the Turkish stance on the issue of whether Danish Prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen is to become general secretary of NATO.

First, President Abdullah Gül used his visit to Brussels to express that Turkey had no particular objections to any of the persons mentioned in relation to the NATO post, and that Mr. Rasmussen had served well as prime minister of Denmark. President Gül, hence, gave the impression that the reluctances, previously expressed by both anonymous Turkish officials and by senior AKP official Suat Kiniklioglu, were no longer standing in the way of Mr. Rasmussen taking up the NATO post. In other words Gül gave the clear impression that Turkey was now ready to fall in line with all other NATO allies, and support Mr. Rasmussen.

Later in the evening, however, prime minister Erdoğan came out on Turkish news channel NTV and claimed that he would have great difficulties telling his fellow countrymen how come Mr. Rasmussen would be such a good candidate, given his lack of diplomacy during the cartoon crises and given the inability of the Danish authorities to deal with ROJ TV, which Turkey accuses of supporting PKK terror. Erdoğan, thus, gave the impression that the Turkish government is still considering a veto against Mr. Rasmussen, is he to announce his candidature, and that the party in office has not at all decided whether they will fall in line.

What are we to make of these two contradicting statements? Does it simply reveal a complete lack of foreign political coordination between the office of the prime minister and that of the president? Or could there perhaps be some sort of explanation for these various statements? Even though Abdullah Gül is now president of the republic, and hence no longer officially part of the AKP, one must assume there to be some sort of communication between the president and the prime minister. Not least given that these two persons have been key figures and worked closely together with regard to the establishment of the AKP, and with regard to shaping AKP policies.

From 2002, when AKP took office, until 2007, Gül was foreign minister for AKP and thus the face of the party in office on the international stage. During those years an interesting division of labor could be observed on several occasions. Erdoğan would primarily concentrate on what he does best, namely domestic policies and voter mobilization in Turkey, whereas Gül would concentrate on what he is good at, namely international diplomacy. The two men each has his characteristic political personality and qualities. Erdoğan is the populist able to rally support in large sections of Turkish society, Gül is rather the diplomat able to cater and communicate to Western audiences.

An example of this division of labor could be seen during the Turkish attempt to achieve access negotiations with the EU in the period 2002-2004. Erdoğan was the one telling international diplomacy how the EU clearly had double-standards with regard to Turkey, and was the one up on the barricades when too much was demanded of Turkey from the EU. Gül was the one who then smoothed things over, when Erdoğan had stirred things up and upset the European countries.

This kind of double signaling was also an attempt to cater to various political audiences. At home AKP could not be seen as simply putting their heels together and accepting whatever demand the EU made. This would upset a number of skeptical voters and the opposition, who would accuse the AKP of not being able to look out for national interest and of looking weak vis-a-vis the European countries. As AKP was simultaneously attempting to develop ties with a number of Muslim countries in order to play a role as a moderator between the West and the Muslim world, display of weakness and a too-eager-to-please stance could also make Turkey look too Western and much too less Muslim. At the same time, however, Turkey still needed to remain on good foot with both the European countries and the US. They also needed to show to the various European publics that Turkey belonged in the European realm by mastering the art of diplomacy and compromising. In such a context the Erdoğan-Gül combination of hard talk and diplomatic soothing had some effect.

With this in mind, one could ask if Erdoğan and Gül are attempting to do something similar in relation to the issue of who is to be general secretary of NATO. At least, one could claim, Turkey is facing equally many and diverse political audiences with stakes in this issue. At home simply falling in line and not looking out for national interest is never popular. Moreover, a majority of Turks were indeed insulted by what they believe to be Mr. Rasmussen’s lack of diplomatic skills when it came to handling the Cartoon crisis.

Turkey, it must be said, is heading towards local elections (to be held on 29th of March). The campaign, though, has been much more related to issues pertaining to the national political agenda rather than concerned with local questions, and Erdoğan has moreover put himself centre stage in the campaign in order to duplicate the success of the national elections in 2007, where AKP received 47 percent of the votes. In order to repeat the 2007 success he has to keep his voters mobilized. A critical stance towards Mr. Rasmussen in the current situation helps in this regard.

At the same time a critical stance towards Mr. Rasmussen, as I have written in an earlier article on this blog, is crucial in order for the AKP to maintain a good reputation in the Muslim world, where Mr. Rasmussen is not particularly popular. At the same time, however, Turkey still has to remain on good terms with their Western allies including the US, particularly if they envision an entrusted role for themselves as moderator and facilitator between the West and the Muslim world. They therefore must at the same time display willingness to be part of international diplomacy and the culture of compromises.

In other words, one could ask whether a familiar division of labor between Erdoğan and Gül is being revived in order to cater to the many political audiences listening in on the ongoing debates over who is to be the next general secretary of NATO.

Even ‘Wheel of Fortune’ spins into politics

by Daniella Kuzmanovic

One of Turkey’s most well-known celebrities and host on the Turkish edition of the popular game show Wheel of Fortune (Çarkıfelek), Mehmet Ali Erbil, used Monday evening’s show on Fox TV to display his dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs with regard to politics in Turkey. Allegedly for the first time ever Erbil voiced his own political opinion live on TV. ‘Oh, these are small things, but they are filling our bellies my friends. Will we go back to the one-party period, I wonder? Well if you become like sheep, we will go back, I swear it depends on this. Not everyone can tell this, I mean squeeze a little, squeeze and squeeze. But we know, my brother. We respect the laws. We fear Allah. The important thing is that everyone has to have such feelings inside. You will respect the laws. You will respect the rights of others, but unfortunately look at how it is. Hard days awaits this country’

Erbil’s warning was clearly aimed at the current ruling party, the AKP. His warning stemmed from a recent experience during a weekend outing to the Turkish ski resort Uludağ near the town of Bursa. He and his family went by ferry. On board they soon discovered that Kanal 24 was the only available channel on the TV set. Kanal 24 is known for its pro-AKP stance and has previously been warned on several occasions by the national TV and Radio board for broadcasting what was considered to be pro-AKP broadcasts in the period leading up to the national elections in 2007. Not even TRT could be picked up on the ferry, Erbil added, not to mention any of the popular, major TV-channels in the country. TRT is the state-sponsored TV in Turkey, seen as synonymous with the outlook of a Kemalist statist elite, and hence just as biased as Kanal 24 only serving another master. Many Turks can still remember a time when only TRT was available to the Turkish audiences. But even TRT would, if one is to believe Erbil, have been preferable to the mouthpiece of the AKP.

Things then seemed only to turn from bad to worse during the Erbil family outing. The ferry departed 20 minutes late. The reason for the delay, Erbil tells, was that the ferry awaited the arrival of the AKP election campaign bus. Local elections are to be held at March 29, and campaigning is right now intense from all parties. ‘Was this multi-party democracy?’ Erbil asks, and then goes on to wonder if (human) rights are shaped so as to fit the needs of the AKP, or if the ferry will also wait for the MHP (right wing nationalist party) campaign bus? ‘I ask you’, he continued, thus urging the audience to reflect upon the current state of affairs, and whether things like the occurrences on the ferry should indeed be a normal state of affairs, something acceptable.

Since the 2007 elections, in which the AKP was re-elected with 47 percent of the Turkish votes, the party has increasingly been criticized for behaving as if they had been granted imperial rights to rule. One cannot help but to think back upon the 1950ies experience of the Democratic Party (DP). This was the party, which broke the power monopoly of the Republican Peoples Party (CHP), the ruling party during the one-party period that Erbil warns his audience of. But DP was also the party that became increasingly anti-democratic, repressive and authoritarian throughout the 1950ies, and was in the end removed by the Turkish Military in the first coup in modern Turkish history on May 27 1960. No doubt DP, due to their large electoral victories during the 1950ies, believed that the public had to an extent given them a mandate to act the way they did. How members of the current ruling party in Turkey then perceives their room for maneuver, given the 47 percent mandate they received, is what is observed and evaluated at present.

What Erbil sees, and openly criticized, is the AKP’s attempts at a gradual establishment of a propaganda and power monopoly in Turkey. Erbil’s motives for voicing his opinion are unclear, though. It very much depends on who you ask in an increasingly polarized country. What we do know is that it was time for him to spin the wheel.

Turkish Reluctance

Turkish reluctance towards Danish prime minister as head of NATO – The symbolic significance of public dissociation

by Daniella Kuzmanovic

Turkish government last week publically announced their reluctance towards the idea of Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen becoming head of NATO. They even went so far as to threaten to veto his possible candidacy. How come this overt display of reluctance, when the implications could easily be that Turkey upsets a number of significant NATO allies?

In order to understand this, one of course has to take into account concrete reasons stemming from the somewhat strained relationship between Turkey’s current AKP led government and its Danish counterpart. But in my opinion a far more significant reason is to be found in the current foreign political outlook and vision of the ruling party in Turkey, in which a rapprochement towards the Arab world plays a significant role. Due to active Danish participation in the US led alliance in Iraq, and the so-called Cartoon Crisis, a majority of countries in the Middle East  would probably rather see anyone but Fogh Rasmussen as head of NATO. Through their public dissociation from Fogh Rasmussen Turkey has clearly signaled that the concerns of the countries in the region have been heard.

There are several concrete reasons why Turkey’s government is opposed to Fogh Rasmussen’s possible candidacy. First, there is the issue of the Kurdish TV channel, Roj TV, broadcasting from Copenhagen. The Turks have repeatedly asked that the TV channel be closed by the Danish authorities, since Turkey accuses the channel of supporting, both in words and financially, the PKK. During a visit to Copenhagen in November 2005 Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan refused to speak and then left a press conference due to the presence of a reporter from Roj TV. The Danish response has been staunch in the sense that the Danish government has informed the Turks that their claims against Roj TV lack substantial evidence, and that the TV channel is therefore allowed to continue to broadcast from Copenhagen protected by the rules of free press. Second, there is the issue of the so-called Cartoon Crisis. Also the Turks were upset with the firm stance of the Danish prime minister during the Cartoon Crisis. He was seen as unwilling to listen to the concerns of a number of Muslim countries, hence displaying lack of diplomacy. Particularly with regard to Turkey, this became obvious in the eyes of the Turks when Fogh Rasmussen flatly refused to take into consideration a letter from the then Turkish ambassador to Denmark urging him to stress to his public the responsibility of the media with regard to depicting Islam. Third, the Danish prime minister is seen as displaying a great amount of reluctance towards the idea of Turkish EU membership, and has among other in a debate article in a large Danish newspaper, stated that EU has to carefully consider further enlargements of the European Union, not least Turkish accession. Finally Denmark is part of the US led alliance against Iraq, a war Turkey strongly opposed. In 2003 the Turkish government refused US troops access to Northern Iraq through Turkey.

Each of these reasons gives ample ground for Turkish reluctance towards Fogh Ramsussen as head of NATO. But the question is whether they provide the key to understanding how come the Turks publically display their strong disliking of the Danish prime minister? In order to comprehend this I suggest we must also turn to the foreign political ambitions and vision of the AKP in general. Throughout the past couple of years it has become increasingly clear that the current Turkish ruling party envisions a grand role for Turkey on the foreign political stage. A role where Turkey is a key strategic partner and central political player in the wider Middle East, but also a role where Turkey stands out as able to act independently and on its own and not only as part of a Western alliance. This is what has been named a Neo-Ottomanist Turkish foreign policy. The diplomatic activity of the Turkish government, not least the rapprochement between Turkey and a range of Muslim countries, indicates the presence of such visions. Turkey has thus attempted to present itself as a possible moderator in talks between Israel and Syria, Iran and US, just to mention a few of the current relations topping the political agendas, and has throughout the past years on several occasions hosted meetings between Muslim countries in Turkey. Traditionally, relations between Turkey and Arab-speaking countries in the region have been strained, given that Turkey has been a key US ally, has had extensive relations with Israel, not least with regard to defense cooperation, and does not share a history of being colonized but rather used to be the colonizer in the region. Particularly, relations with Syria have been tense. In order to develop a role as a key player on the foreign political stage in the wider Middle East, though, Turkey needs to stay on good terms with the various countries of the region. The Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan’s display of anger against Israel in a session on Gaza during the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos in late January 2009 gave him some street credit if not points for diplomacy.

However, in order to reaffirm the Turkish position as an independent and significant foreign political actor with good ties to traditional Western allies, i.e. the US, but sympathetic to concerns of Muslims countries, dissociating from Fogh Rasmussen in public is a fruitful way of signaling this position. It, on the one hand, allows the Turks to signal their independence and willingness to speak out against what is held to be the wish of major Western alliance partners. This plays well at home, where Fogh Ramussen is not a popular choice, and where displays of Turkey as being a significant and independent foreign political actor are welcomed by many Turks. On the other hand it also allows Turkey to signal to the wider Middle East that Fogh Ramsussen was never their choice for head of NATO even if he should eventually become so, and that they are thus in effect in line with a range of other countries in the Middle East when it comes to him. Hence, their newly established credentials among other countries in the Middle East are kept intact. At the same time the Turks might even be able to use the prospect of an eventual, reluctant accept of Fogh Rasmussen on their behalf as a bargaining chip with regard to advancing their position in relation to some of the issues high on their agenda. Should Fogh Rasmussen not become head of NATO the Turks can even claim that they have some amount of influence with significant countries, most notably US, within NATO. Why else should Turkey be the first Muslim country Barack Obama is to visit, if it was not seen as a significant strategic partner?

Stakes are high, since Turkey’s clear public dissociation from Fogh Rasmussen will obviously annoy a number of countries within the NATO alliance. On the other hand the Turkish government has a lot to gain from such a public display of opposition to possible candidacy of the Danish primeminister both at home and abroad.