Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The 2007 Turkish Elections: An Islamist Victory?
Guest Op-Ed by Howard Eissenstat

It is hard to understate the high drama of the Turkish elections that took place on July 22nd. One leading candidate, Devlet Bahçeli, of the neo-fascist Nationalist Action Party (MHP) took to tossing a hangman’s noose to his audience to demonstrate his tough “anti-terror” stance. Another candidate was murdered shortly before the election, though unpaid debts and ties to organized crime are more likely than politics as the cause of his assassination.

But the most important aspect to these elections was that they represented an important face-off between the elected government of Turkey and that country’s powerful military and bureaucratic elite. For many in the bureaucracy and, particularly, with the military, the government is nothing more than an Islamist wolf in democratic sheep’s clothing. In the Spring, a combination of massive (and well financed) protests, half-veiled threats from the powerful Turkish military, and legislative high jinks effectively stymied the ability of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to choose its candidate for the Presidency. At a legislative impasse, the Prime Minister, Tayyip Erdoğan, called for elections, promising to win an even more decisive victory than he had in the 2002 elections. He was as good as his word and the AKP, won better than 45% of the popular vote, an improvement of more than 12% over the 2002 results and more than enough to ensure that the AKP can again form a government without reliance on coalition partners.

There are a number of reasons to be pleased with the results of the election. The poor showing of the MHP suggests that even in the militantly nationalist atmosphere of contemporary Turkey, the attractions of fascism are limited. On the other hand, a significant number of Kurdish candidates, who risked disenfranchisement through the arcane rules of Turkey’s electoral system (written under the watchful eye of the Turkish military), effectively overcame this hurdle by running as independent candidates. Twenty-seven independent candidates will participate in the new parliament, most of them representing Kurdish interests. Perhaps the most important outcome of these elections, however, has been the failure of the old military and bureaucratic elites to either cow or overturn the popularly elected government.

That being said, do the 2007 elections really, as so many commentators have suggested, represent the “triumph of Political Islam” in Turkey? In a word, no.

Clearly, many in the old Turkish elite and among the millions who protested the AKP this past Spring, believe that the AKP constitutes a danger to the secular nature of the Turkish state. There are reasons to be concerned. Early in the AKP administration, an attempt to criminalize marital infidelity raised eyebrows and threatened a national pastime before it was quietly aborted. More troubling, municipal governments associated with the AKP, have often attempted to use state resources to promote what they see as proper Islamic practice. Finally, the AKP, while far less corrupt than previous Turkish governments, has not shied from indulging in what the Turks call, “kadrolaşma” stuffing government institutions with their supporters both as a means of rewarding loyalty and ensuring that their power continues even if their electoral fortunes one day falter.

Nevertheless, these concerns are overstated. First, the secret to the AKP’s success is that it has reframed debates regarding the role of Islam in Turkey. While there is certainly a determined (and tiny) minority in Turkey which hopes to overthrow the secular basis of the Turkish Republic, this has never been on the AKP’s agenda and indeed would be tremendously unpopular. Instead, they have argued that being religiously observant should not constitute a barrier to access of the public sphere. The AKP has coupled this call for tolerance for religious observance with economic liberalism and a determination to locate Turkey decisively in “the West.” This “center-right” formula has been consistently successful in Turkish politics since the first democratic elections in 1950. It has proven equally successful for the AKP.

Certainly, many devout Sunni Muslims voted for the AKP this past Sunday. But most were voting for the opportunity to practice their religion without interference from the state, not imposition of Islamic law. In addition, much of the AKP’s electoral success is based on its economic policies and the steady growth and relative stability that they have brought. In Turkey, as elsewhere, money matters.

The AKP’s relative liberalism seems to have also gained it the support of many who have been distrustful of state power but have no interest in an Islamist state. As in the past, the AKP did well in Kurdish regions. If newspaper reports are to be believed, it also did well with many of Turkey’s diminishing non-Muslims, who were presumably won over by the AKP’s pro-Europe stance and were fearful of the rabid nationalism espoused by both the MHP and the formerly left-of-center, Republican People’s Party (CHP). Of greater electoral significance, the AKP also did surprisingly well in regions with large Alevi population, a group that has historically voted for left-of-center parties and has been particularly protective of Turkey’s secular traditions. Only serious survey data will indicate how successful the AKP was with the Alevi; at minimum, however, they were able to cut into a significant portion of the Alevi vote. This is particularly significant because the Alevi are a large voting bloc which has historically sided with the secular left as the best defense against Sunni dominance. Even if Turkey’s elites remain unconvinced of the AKP’s long-term ambitions, the party has been able to convince an even more important group: Turkey’s voters.

The AKP won its popularity through careful stewardship of the economy and by progressive liberalization of the political sphere. Its victory is a victory for Turkish democracy, not a call for Sharia.

Howard Eissenstat is an Assistant Professor of Middle Eastern History at Seton Hall University in South Orange, NJ.


gdamiani said...

Excellent piece of M. Eissenstat... though I broadly agree on the overall thrust including his " the attractions of fascism are limited " however last I checked when a party in this case in point the MHP finds himself with 71 seats in parliament from o repeat zero (and nearly double its votes in the process) in many people's book this is called a success not a poor showing. I assume they were hoping for more but this does not change the basic fact.

Anonymous said...

great analysis..thank you. Enjoy the blog a great deal

eurofrank said...

Dear Professor Eissenstat

for info

But there will be changes in the command of both the Turkish navy and the air force this year. Navy Commander Admiral Muzaffer Metin Atac is currently expected to succeed Admiral Yener Karahanoglu, while General Aydogan Baboglu is expected to replace General Faruk Comert as head of the air force (Milliyet, July 24).

However, most attention will be focused on Erdogan’s attitude towards appointments in the army. For the members of Turkey’s 100,000 strong officer corps, one of the key tests of any civilian government is whether it interferes in promotions and appointments within the TGS. Several three-star generals who have publicly criticized the AK Party and its predecessors are due for promotion. They include General Erdal Ceylanoglu, who played a key role in the toppling of a coalition government led by the Islamist Welfare Party (RP) in 1997, and General Metin Yavuz who in April 2007 publicly attacked local government officials for dressing elementary school students in the all-covering black chador for a public parade (Yeni Safak, July 22).

The Turkish military has also regularly used YAS meetings to purge the officer corps of suspected Islamist sympathizers. In recent years there has been considerable concern in the TGS that groups such as the Sufi brotherhoods known as tariqah and the followers of the preacher Fetullah Gulen, who is currently in exile in the United States, have been trying to infiltrate the officer corps. Suspected Islamist sympathizers are usually expelled on the grounds of “ill-discipline” and are often not even aware that they are even under suspicion until their expulsion is publicly announced. Under current Turkish law, expelled officers have no right of appeal.

Since it came to power in November 2002, the AK Party has frequently promised to amend the law to allow the expelled officers to appeal. After previous meetings of YAS, Erdogan has included a note expressing his reservations when signing the expulsion orders. Many in the TGS will be waiting to see whether, with a renewed mandate after the July 22 elections, Erdogan either repeats his reservations or even tries to prevent the expulsions.

eurofrank said...

Dear Professor Eissenstat

It is interesting to note the big comeback of the Russian navy and the reference to working with Turkey.

Tanker Escorts

Black Sea Security

eurofrank said...

Of course the encroachment on Georgia continues.

| La Reconquista

With Georgia out of the way the flow of oil through BTC might be turned off with consequent loss of transit fees.

Anonymous said...

wow gold cheap wow gold buy wow gold world of warcraft gold wow world of warcraft wow gold WoW Warrior WoW Hunter WoW Rogue WoW Paladin WoW Shaman WoW Priest WoW Mage WoW Druid WoW Warlock power leveling powerleveling wow power leveling wow powerleveling wow guides wow tips food flower google排名 google左侧排名 google排名服务 百度推广 百度排名 网站推广 商业吧 机床 LED灯 电池 塑料 摄像机 移民 甲醇 染料 福州热线 体育博客 股票博客 游戏博客 魔兽博客 考试博客 汽车博客 房产博客 电脑博客 powerlin518 logo design website design web design 商标设计

Anonymous said...

free roulette systems
roulette strategies
free roulette
how to play roulette
tips for roulette
online roulette
roulette strategy
roulette system
how to win at roulette
casino roulette
play roulette online
horse racing
horse racing tips
horse racing betting
horse racing software
american horse racing systems
horse racing software systems
horse racing systems
horse racing picks
horse racing online
bootleg movie download
watch movies online
online bootleg movie downloads
downloadable movies
divx full movies download
online movies
download full version movies
download movies
pirated movies

Anonymous said...

wow gold Store Welcome you! Look here to Buy World Of Warcraft Gold, Cheap WOW Power Leveling, Buy cheap WOW PowerLeveling, World Of Warcraft Power Leveling, World Of Warcraft PowerLeveling on Sale with Fast Instant

Gas Detector Systems Co Detector - Gas Alarm Systems provide Co Alarm systems for Alcohol Tester, Breathalyser,Breathalyzer,Alcohol Tester,carbon monoxide more.


Anonymous said...

captain cook casino

Anonymous said...

Other wow gold changes are wow goldalmost as easy. buy wow goldA designer buy wow goldfeels like cheap wow gold nobody will cheap wow gold really object to wow power levelinga change and wow power levelingthat it's pretty power levelinglow risk. At power leveling e as a santiy check wow gold
buy wow gold
cheap wow gold

Anonymous said...

Other wow gold changes are wow goldalmost as easy. buy wow goldA designer buy wow goldfeels like cheap wow gold nobody will cheap wow gold really object to wow power levelinga change and wow power levelingthat it's pretty power levelinglow risk. At power leveling e as a santiy check wow gold
buy wow gold
cheap wow gold

Viagra Online said...

I'm totally agree with you dear blogger, specially with the fact about Nationalist Action Party effort, I've been support it and them they failed. I think we need more and different politics about this matters.

uknowme said...

With Georgia out of the way the flow of oil through BTC might be turned off with consequent loss of transit fees.
job tracking software

No alcohol sanitizer and dispensers

Blogger said...


Professional trading signals sent to your cell phone every day.

Start following our signals right now and make up to 270% a day.