Sunday, June 12, 2011

Will Turkey choose dictatorship?

From The Washington Post, 11 June 2011, by Gul Tuysuz:

ISTANBUL — Turkey’s ruling party expected to easily win parliamentary elections on Sunday. [but read an alternative view, below - SL]

But the true test for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) will come after the elections, when it hopes to start rewriting the country’s constitution. ... the lingering question of the party’s commitment to democracy weighs heavily on the electorate.

...According to recent polls, the AKP is expected to take 44 to 50 percent of the vote, with the leading opposition party, the secularist Republican People’s Party, getting 25 to 32 percent. The AKP needs 330 seats in the 550-seat parliament to take a new constitution to a public vote, much like the one it won last year. Whether they can get such a large number of seats depends on the ultranationalist party passing the election threshold and the performance of independent candidates put forth by the Kurdish party.

Erdogan has been urging voters to give AKP the votes necessary for it to get a parliamentary super-majority. With such a majority, it may be possible for Erdogan to establish a presidential system. He has said such a system is “what lies in my heart.”

Erdogan, with his fiery temper and defiant style, has not allayed fears that what he wants is perpetual power to rule Turkey. His opponents believe that the inclusive presidential systems characteristic of Western democracies are not the model the AKP has in mind. “From prime minister to president, and president to prime minister out of convenience: This, I’m afraid, is the AKP model,” said Ali Carkoglu, a professor of political science at Koc University, suggesting that Erdogan’s inspiration comes from Russia.

...The police’s rough treatment of protesters at Erdogan rallies set off a wave of other protests. Free-speech issues have come into question with a new Internet filtering system set to take effect in August, which would ban pornography as well as content deemed subversive to the unity of the state. Freedom of the press, critics say, has largely been curtailed due to overambitious court cases aimed at the military for plotting a coup. Some journalists have been detained for conspiring to overthrow the government and for belonging to terrorist organizations.

Even people optimistic that a constitution drafted by the ruling party will bring more freedom fear that Erdogan’s personality may make it difficult for Turkey to transition to a presidential system without sliding into authoritarianism....

From a(n anonymous) Turkish friend of Barry Rubin's, 11 June 2011:

On Sunday, June 12th, Turkish voters go to the ballot box to decide if they want to extend to Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the AKP another four years in charge of the nation. The international media - though more hesitant to get behind Erdogan this time after watching the already flawed Turkish democracy turn into an authoritarian state with tens of journalists and even more opposition figures jailed in increasing numbers in the last three years - anticipates another easy victory for the AKP.

However, the Economist and several other publications have expressed their concern about Erdogan running haywire and turning into an unmanageable dictator if his party is able get a super-majority that would allow them to change the constitution without having any regard for others' perspectives on the issue. This will certainly be the case if the AKP indeed wins 367 seats (out of 550).
But not so fast. Facts in Turkey are not as they seem from the Cihangir cafes (all within 10 blocks or so) where the foreign journalists in Turkey hang out and think they then know everything about Turkey because they interview the same fifteen (approximately) people over and over again - nearly all of them pro-AKP. The same goes for the so-called experts at U.S. and European think-tanks who regard themselves as such because they have read the pieces by those international journalists in the trendy neighborhood of Cihangir in Istanbul.

I believe Sunday's elections are, though not guaranteed, ripe for a, not huge, but sufficiently significant upset that will change the political balance in Turkey. For many Turks, these elections represent the last exit before toll since, after seeing the uncontrollable behavior of Erdogan and the AKP in the last two years in particular, another Erdogan victory means real commotion on the horizon.

First, Erdogan appears afraid and thrown off balance all of sudden.His usual swagger is gone. Instead anger toward all segments of the society dominates his rally speeches. He is even flustered at times: He froze for almost a minute without any ad-libbing - not a single word - when his teleprompter stopped working in Antalya and then called the people in Bingol as citizens of Diyarbakir - not just once, but four times in a row. He has become overly aggressive, hence making him seem the aggressor and not the oppressed as he successfully claimed to be in the past.

Secondly, the sex tapes that were leaked against the MHP (nationalist opposition party) in May appear to have worked in favor of the MHP, which according to Metropoll - a pro-AKP polling firm, seems to have gone from 10% to 15% in May with the AKP, dropping five points to 35% prior to allocating the undecided votes. As the AKP was trying to attract the MHP votes via nationalistic and anti-PKK (Kurdish leftist nationalist group that fought a terror-laden war with Turkey) talk lately.

People appear to have held the AKP responsible for the dirty tricks pulled and also gained the impression that the Gulen (a separate Islamist movement with much power in the police force) movement is behind it, following the imprisonment of two writers apparently for writing books exposing the infiltration of the Gulenists into the government including the police force and the judiciary.

Third, the main opposition party, the CHP (social democrats), has gone through a serious makeover and has surprised everyone including me with the hard work they have been putting into their campaign. The CHP and its leader Kilicdaroglu has come up with numerous quality ideas and projects - 41 clearly defined projects in all, which if the media was not either controlled by pro-AKP outlets or intimidated by the ruling party (see the journalists in prison and taxes imposed upon an adversary, the Dogan Group) would normally dominate the headlines.

The CHP's executive team has appeared to be extremely deft, and Kilicdaroglu's command of his speeches has improved considerably. The CHP leader has had rallies in 81 cities and visited 200 smaller districts while Erdogan has had 72 rallies and the MHP's Bahceli 40. In comparison, in 2007, it was 59 for Erdogan, 19 for the then-CHP leader Baykal and 11 for Bahceli.

An experienced businessman, Inan Kirac, of the traditional business elite reportedly expects - and he says he will even bet on it - that the CHP will come up with an upset and emerge as the top party. Erdogan has confronted Kirac and warned him of risky consequences for his prediction.

...nothing is a foregone conclusion as people make it out to be. Anything can happen but an upset may also be in the making if the Turkish people happen to be on a good day with a clear mind and take the last exit before toll.
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