Books on Turkey
Update No: 122 - (26/07/07)
An AKP victory
The elections to parliament in Turkey on July 22nd went more or less as
predicted. The incumbent AKP gained ground, increasing its share of the vote
from 34% in 2002 to 47%, an apparent triumph. It was decidedly a triumph to poll
as much as 52% in the Kurdish south-east. But appearances are deceptive.
The rules of the parliamentary game have been changed. Both friends and
opponents can, however, agree that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's
religious-conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP) is in the driving
seat for now. It is also clear that 23 mostly "independent" Kurdish
representatives have been elected to parliament. Kurdish politicians have
labelled themselves "independent" to circumvent a 10-percent hurdle
that has kept pro-Kurdish parties out of parliament in all their previous
Erdogan's AKP, nevertheless, has about 340 of the 550 parliamentary seats and
has not achieved the nearly two-thirds majority of 367 mandates it previously
enjoyed. The AKP may still be able to govern without a coalition partner, but
even that is uncertain. The Nationalistic Movement Party (MHP) and the
Republican People's Party (CHP), which was founded by Atatürk, may strive to
form a anti-AKP coalition. This would, however, be a difficult undertaking. It
is hardly expected, for instance, that the Kurds will give their support to the
left or the nationalistic right.
Two vital issues settled
There were two significant developments contained within the election results
and the first was essential. The poll victory gives Premier Erdogan the power to
resist the military over the all-important issue of war or peace. Democracy is
prevailing in Turkey, as it did in 2003 when parliament refused to allow the
military to go to war in Iraq with the US. This time round Erdogan should be
able to resist them going to war on their own in Iraq. There is still the
question of whether Erdogan wants to resist the military in this matter. They
are itching to take on the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK), which has its military
base in the two Kurdish enclaves in Iraq.
The second major development is the fact that the Kurdish minority now have
genuine representation in the Turkish Parliament with twenty-three members.
Whilst secularist detractors focus on alleged "Islamic" tendencies
with the AK Party, it has been very clear for some time that Mr Erdogan is a man
that Kurds can reasonably expect to be able to "do business" with, he
is no racist.
So now there is significant Kurdish representation in a Parliament whose
government is not anti-Kurdish, indeed has majority Kurdish support, and is
willing to engage in dialogue with Kurds.
But the presidential hurdle still remains
The lifespan of the coming legislative period may be the shortest in the
country's history if the parliament does not succeed in electing the country's
president within two months. If there is no head of state, the parliament cannot
dedicate itself to supporting the executive or to begin its actual legislative
tasks and would be forced to dissolve itself.
Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül was nominated for the post by the AKP and would
have been elected if the army had not declared him persona non grata for the
country's highest office. The fact that the Constitutional Court declared the
parliament's vote invalid permitted a referendum on whether the public should
choose the next president. None of Turkey's political parties has suggested
other candidates for the job.
The Army "to the rescue" once again?
This is the point where all Turkish eyes turn to the military leaders. The
army still represents an insurmountable hurdle for civil Turkish bodies. This is
because the army sees itself as the protector of the secular republic -- based
on the reforms instituted by Atatürk, the country's founder -- and because it
would not accept a change of direction that would diminish Turkey's laity, the
strict separation of religion and state affairs. This is exactly what Erdogan is
being accused of because he is suspected of promoting the Islamization of Turkey
by means of democracy. Unfortunately, it can therefore be expected that the
generals would not be shy about intervening and temporarily abandoning a
pluralistic democracy, as occurred in 1960, 1971, 1980 and 1997.
For none of the parties can offer a panacea. The daily rising death toll from
the fight with the militant Kurdish separatist organization PKK is adding to the
already enormous domestic pressure. Soldiers' burials are time and again turned
into nationalistic demonstrations aimed against the AKP. Meanwhile the burials
of Kurds lead to protest demonstrations aimed against the state and often lead
to violent confrontations.
The war can perhaps be postponed
Yet the electoral success perhaps relieves the government of the need to
launch an invasion of Iraq that had been threatened by the army in heated
pre-electoral rhetoric. The AKP now has all the legitimacy it needs, without
that accorded by a military adventure of very dubious outcome. The Kurdish
forces there, who are backing separatist ones in Turkey proper (where there are
13million Kurds), know every inch of their mountainous terrain and could fight a
successful guerrilla war against even the valiant and hard-bitten Turkish army.
But war cannot even now be ruled out.
The victory is a personal triumph for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who
could prove to be a statesman, steering his religious party away from the perils
of confrontation, either with the country's secular tradition, protected by the
army, or with Kurdish separatists, squalid nuisance though they are (as we shall
The AKP, whose name signifies in full 'The Justice and Development Party,'
really mean what they stand for. They are successors to the outlawed 'Welfare
Party.' The three ideas of their past and present nomenclature animate their
practice. They know how to look after their own, the poor and the outcast,
running a welfare state of their devising within the state. In this they
resemble Hezbollah and Hamas, which also possess the knack of electoral success.
Everybody is made to feel that they belong.
The party's religious identity helps enormously here of course. Its regular
members are devout and law-abiding. The role of alms-giving in Islam is vital to
the practice of the religion, much more so than jihad, which has not always been
integral to it, contrary to widespread opinion. In its heyday in the European
Middle Ages the practitioners of Islam were originally at any rate notably more
tolerant and pacific than the rampaging crusaders of the Christian Cross and the
Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem.
Erdogan is in that civilised tradition, that of Saladin. He is devout, but no
fanatic; he would hardly be so popular in Washington, if he was. He even tried
to bring in Turkey over onto the US side over Iraq in 2003. It is decidedly
fortunate that he narrowly failed, losing a close vote in parliament in March of
that year, otherwise Turkish intervention could have marred one undoubted
success story there, the integrity and flourishing state of two Kurdish
provinces in the north, although of course everything is in jeopardy because of
the mayhem elsewhere in Iraq.
Overture to the Kurds
So successful has the party been in putting the poor, the migrant and the
religious into the centre of public life that it even won the support, as we
have seen, of a clear majority of the Kurds, whose language is illegal and who
have never supported mainstream political parties beforehand. This is a truly
Mr. Erdogan's party certainly does not act like other Islamist parties. The AKP
is the leading voice in favour of Turkey joining the European Union, and it is
opposed to the Turkish army's threats to invade Iraq to wage war against Kurdish
militants there. Many observers feel that the AKP is planning to grant
semi-autonomous status to the Kurds, as with the Catalans in Spain.
The situation is tangled. Two facts make this clear. While the unemployment rate
in Turkey stands at close to 10 percent, the figure is closer to 60 percent in
the Kurdish south-east region. And while some cities in western Turkey, where
much of the country's industry is located, have per capita incomes that are on
par with some parts of Europe, many cities in the mostly agrarian southeast have
per capita incomes that are more in-line with developing nations.
No pro-Kurdish party has before gained representation in Turkey's parliament in
almost two decades, shut out by Turkey's high election threshold - the highest
in Europe - that requires a party to gain at least 10 percent of the national
vote to receive legislative seats. In Turkey's last election, in 2002, the DTP
(then known as the Democratic Peoples' Party, or DEHAP) swept most of the voting
districts in the predominantly-Kurdish southeast, but had only 6% of the overall
vote and so no parliamentary representation at all.
The election threshold does not apply to independent candidates, though, and for
the polls the DTP decided to make an end run and field its candidates as
unaffiliated. This innovative tactic created an unprecedented opportunity for
the Kurdish community's voice to be heard on the national political level.
If more than 20 of the "independents" make it into parliament, then by
law they are able to regroup under their party's banner. That is exactly what
has happened, with 23 seats.
The prospect of a strong Kurdish representation in Ankara was already creating a
sense of excitement in many parts of the southeast and, observers say, presents
both an opportunity and a challenge for Turks and Kurds at a time when attacks
by the outlawed PKK on Turkish forces are on the rise. Those attacks have
prompted Turkey's political and military establishment to contemplate invading
northern Iraq with the aim of destroying PKK training and logistics bases.
The last time a pro-Kurdish party made it into parliament, 16 years ago, ended
in disaster when the new parliamentarians insisted on taking their oath in
Kurdish and were kicked out of the body and ultimately jailed. The question now,
many say, is whether Turkey is ready to accept a pro-Kurdish party in parliament
and whether the Kurdish politicians have matured enough to moderate their
"We all have changed. I think both sides now see more clearly that they
cannot win the war," says Cuneyt Ulsever, a columnist with Hurriyet,
Turkey's largest daily newspaper. "Before you could have not even written
about the Kurdish issue, now even the people in the street are talking about
"If the DTP can act like a general Turkish party rather than talk about the
Kurdish problem right from the beginning, that would be more easily digested by
the public," Ulsever continued. "But if they came out right from the
beginning and called for freedom for [Abdullah Ocalan, the PKK's jailed leader],
then there would be hell."
Hilmi Aydogdu, the DTP's Diyarbakir chairman, says the party's candidates are
not going to parliament "to fight" but to try and foster dialogue with
the other parties there. "This way we hope to break the way people have
been looking at us and to show that our aim is to be integrated with
Turkey," says Aydogdu, who recently served a two-month prison sentence in
connection with a roundup of several of the DTP's top leaders around Turkey.
Turkey records strong budget surplus for May
Finance Minister, Kemal Unakitan, has said that privatisation is state
policy and that Turkey is a global factor in the economic arena. This was
recently announced during a visit to the Municipality of Eskisehir. Unakitan's
wife, Ahsen Unakitan, Eskisehir Governor, Kadir Halisici, and Justice and
Development Party (AK Party) deputy, Murat Mercan, accompanied the finance
minister to Eskisehir. Unakitan said Turkey is integrated into the global
economy, New Europe reported.
He emphasised that they, as a government, wanted to increase the competitiveness
of entrepreneurs by decreasing social security premiums and tax burdens on
employers. "The IMF executive directors agreed with us on removing tax
burden on employment. We have been unable to send a bill towards this end to
Parliament due to the legislature's heavy agenda. This issue will be talked
about in the coming parliamentary session."
Turkey recorded a budgetary surplus of 2.04 billion Turkish liras for the month
of May, Unakitan announced. Speaking at a meeting in Ankara, Unakitan said that
budget income for May was 19.7 billion Turkish liras while state expenditure for
the month was 17.6 billion Turkish liras. Unakitan said the budget deficit in
Jan-May period was 3.3 billion Turkish liras and the month primary surplus was
20.3 billion Turkish liras.