TURKEY’S WATERSHED ELECTIONS

TURKEY’S WATERSHED ELECTIONS

Michael Rubin

6 June 2011

(This article was first published at Commentary Magazine – http://tinyurl.com/3wml8ny/- on June 5, 2011)

Over the past nine years, Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) has undermined Turkey’s struggling democracy while building a virtual police state. Turks are afraid to talk on the phone; they assume their homes and offices are bugged; journalists can no longer report freely. At the same time, Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has steadily implemented an Islamist agenda. The AKP now says that it will rewrite the constitution, a move which would further undermine checks and balances and move Turkey further into autocracy.

It’s against this backdrop that next week’s elections in Turkey become so important. Finally, Europeans are starting to wake up to what has happened in Turkey. Too many diplomats and intellectuals accepted at face value the AKP’s rhetoric that the Islamists represented democracy and the old secular order represented fascism. The secularists aren’t great—rampant corruption and a dubious human rights record rightly tarnished their image, but the Islamists have been just as bad and far more cynical.

Retiring the military from any political guardianship role is a noble goal, but the AKP pursued it for cynical aims: Removing a constitutional check on the abuse of power without constructing a new, viable civilian mechanism to defend the constitution. Indeed, Erdogan’s deputy prime minister Bulent Arinc famously threatened to dissolve the constitutional court as well if they didn’t stop declaring the party’s legislation unconstitutional. That State Department officials and journalists accepted Islamist declarations of democratic intent at face value, but treated secularists with disdain should give a pause for reflection and illustrated a great deal about the power of wishful thinking.

At any rate, it’s a good sign that the mainstream media is beginning to recognize the danger that awaits Turkey should the AKP consolidate power. The Economist, long a cheerleader for the AKP, had declared, “The best way for Turks to promote democracy would be to vote against the ruling party.”

Alas, the polls do not look good. Here are five. The AKP is the Islamist party, the CHP is the center-left secularist opposition, the MHP is the nationalist party, and the independents are mainly Kurds. It certainly looks like the AKP won’t have much trouble getting re-elected. The question is whether the MHP will break the 10 percent threshold. The way the Turkish system works, every party must get above 10 percent to win seats in parliament. If they get less than 10 percent, their seats are re-allocated in a way that benefits the largest party. That’s why back in 2002, the AKP was about to win 32 percent of the vote, but win an overwhelming majority in parliament. If the MHP doesn’t make it, and if the CHP underperforms, there will be no stopping the AKP from cementing its transformation of Turkey.

*Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute; senior lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Civil-Military Relations; and a senior editor of the Middle East Quarterly.

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MICHAEL RUBIN

Over the past nine years, Turkey's Justice and Development Party (AKP) has undermined Turkey's struggling democracy while building a virtual police state. " />