Commentary on Larrabee article: Both Turkey and the EU are set to be losers now
Turkey’s political dynamics have changed drastically over the last decade. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has brought about a transformation comparable to a revolution in the sense that the social basis of political power has changed. Broader segments of society are now part of the political process, with the most decisive shift being from the military to civilians, and from old elites to new.
As in all revolutions, this sort of power shift is accompanied by two features. The new “revolutionary” elite has developed an insatiable appetite for monopolising power, and there’s also been a significant ideological change. And both have been accentuated by the referendum last September that saw 58% of the electorate in favour of the amendments proposed by the AKP. It marked the end of an era in Turkish politics.
The referendum coincided with the 30th anniversary of the last military coup in Turkey of 1980, which ended the military’s longstanding tutelage over the political system. In that sense, the civilianisation of the Turkish polity is now almost complete; there’s little if any chance of going back to the days when the military had the final say on matters that in a properly democratic system should never have been its concern. Along with the military, the judiciary also suffered a set back in its powers.
But what has been presented as a greater democratisation of the judiciary’s highest institutions has ended up giving the executive branch of government unprecedented tools for controlling the judiciary. This is now a very real concern not just for the so-called secularists in Turkey identified in his article by Stephen Larrabee as opposing the AKP’s “democratising” moves for ideological reasons, but also by the many democrats who were opposed to the tutelage of the military and the role of the judiciary while also being uncomfortable with the concentration of power in the hands of the executive.
Their opposition to the AKP’s manipulation of the referendum and its attempts to forge a judiciary more to its own liking reflects unease not about the AKP’s ideological leanings but about its impatience with dissent and its apparent desire to control all aspects of political and administrative life in Turkey.
These secular democrats were at forefront of political resistance to the military’s tutelage long before the Islamist movement. What they chiefly fear is the institutionalisation in Turkey of a system of “electoral authoritarianism, particularly if after the coming elections the new constitution is drafted solely by the AKP and if the party then creates a presidential system without the requisite checks and balances.
Last year’s referendum, as Larrabee rightly argues, can be seen as a dress rehearsal for June’s general elections. So far, the AKP seems almost uncontested and is likely to win comfortably despite changes at the top of the main opposition party, the CHP (People’s Republican Party). The elections campaign has already begun, with the AKP trying to keep together the broadly-based conservative coalition it forged for the referendum. To do so it has been turning up the volume on its religio-conservative and nationalist discourse, while at the same time giving up any pretense of pursuing a democratic solution for the Kurdish problem.
In years gone by, the EU accession process was a framework that disciplined Turkey’s democratising reforms. But now the Union has no such power. Even the two main “openings” of the AKP towards Turkey’s two main minorities, the Kurds and the Alevis, have largely resulted from Turkey’s own internal dynamics rather than as a function of the EU membership process.
For five years now, relations between the EU and Turkey have deteriorated steadily. As Larrabee notes, they are now in a state of coma. France and Germany are both led by politicians averse to Turkish membership, and public opinion in virtually all the EU member states has grown tired of enlargement. And in Turkey, a sense of being treated unfairly – particularly on the Cyprus issue – has generated deep disenchantment.
Of course it is a pity that relations have been allowed to deteriorate so far. As Larrabee points out, Turkey could be of great assistance to the EU in dealing with its neighbourhood, particularly the Middle East. Turkey’s foreign policy shares many of the same goals as the mainstream EU states. Yet with dialogue between Turkey and the EU now virtually non-existent, - 18 chapters are blocked from negotiation and there is no serious effort on either side to resolve the Cyprus problem – there is little hope that relations will get any better.
This will be all the more regrettable because the synergy that could come with Turkey’s accession would serve both the economically ailing, internationally ineffectual EU as well as the dynamic but yet unconsolidated democracy of Turkey, which in turn could serve as an example for her volatile neighbours.
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