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>> The Financial Times


TURKISH TOLERANCE KEY TO REALISING FULL DEMOCRACY

The Financial Times - June 14, 2011

by David Gardner

Just as important, however, the prime minister, increasingly imperious and intolerant of criticism, has fewer seats and faces a greater number of adversaries in parliament. Turkish voters have denied him the supermajority that would have enabled him to fashion a new constitution in his own image – including moving Turkey towards a more presidential system on French lines, in which Mr Erdogan would become president.

The main reason for this is that the opposition Republican People’s party (CHP) has raised its share of the vote from 21 to 26 per cent. This is a modest advance but its new leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, has been in place only a year. In that time he has turned the party of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, father of the Turkish republic, from shrine-worshippers with a lazy sense of entitlement to power into what is becoming a viable social democratic party with a shot at winning power – at least next time. The Kemalist secular establishment now knows it cannot rely on the army and judiciary to change governments; it has to have the votes.

Yet, as Mr Erdogan acknowledged in his victory speech, the new arithmetic of parliament needs cross-party consensus behind the new constitution, intended to replace the 1982 charter drawn up under military rule. This will not be easy. Mustafa Akyol, a columnist sympathetic to the AKP, points out that the very word concession is pejorative in Turkish, in a political culture that favours “a doctrine of pre-emptive intolerance”.

It is an extraordinary achievement for any politician to win three absolute majorities in a row, let alone with an increased share of the popular vote, as Recep Tayyip Erdogan has just done in Turkey. It makes Turkey’s prime minister a towering figure at home, a confident statesman abroad and a successful model for the young Arabs who have risen across the region to prove the Turks are not unique in their ability to combine Islam, freedom and prosperity.

Mr Erdogan’s neo-Islamist Justice and Development party (AKP) won about 50 per cent on Sunday (up from 47 per cent in 2007) on an 87 per cent turnout. His triumph was the reward for doubling prosperity, as measured by average per capita income, and for giving Turkey a voice in the world – as a candidate (albeit faltering) for European Union membership – and across the Middle East, and as a member of Nato and the G20.

That will have to change if Turkey wants to become fully democratic, with rights for its restive Kurds analogous to those enjoyed by minorities in Europe, and a full panoply of freedoms, including from military tutelage.

After three decades of strife in Turkey’s south-east, the Kurds want more of the cultural and linguistic rights the AKP has given them, as well as control over education and self-rule. The Kurdish bloc of MPs has nearly doubled its score to 36 – six of them in jail – and many Turkish analysts believe this is the “last generation” with which Ankara can negotiate a common future. Yet the Kurds’ quasi-federal expectations may be too high in a centralised country modelled on Jacobin France. “In the short run, federalism is not going to happen,” says Suat Kiniklioglu, a young AKP leader.

While Mr Erdogan has formally extended freedoms of expression and association, there are anomalies. The government diluted Article 301 of the criminal code, but it is still a crime to denigrate “the Turkish Nation”. Even though the AKP government has brought the generals to heel, Article 35 of the army’s Internal Service Law, the legal pretext for the last coup in 1980, still licenses military meddling. None of this can stand if Turkey wishes to become a full democracy, much less enter the EU.

Beyond such measures, parliament and prime minister will have to dispute the distribution of executive power, in light of Mr Erdogan’s ambitions to step into a presidency endowed with real power, probably for two terms, which would take him past 2023 and the centenary of Ataturk’s republic, securing his reputation as the founder of a new Turkey.

This tussle will overshadow everything – much as Mr Erdogan overshadows Turkey.





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