Analysis: Islamist victory may shift balance of power

By LINDA MICHAUD-EMIN
July 22, 2007 23:54

The emergence of a new AKP opposition from Turkey's far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) will lead to very different dynamics.

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According to preliminary polls, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is set once again to form a single-party government in Turkey. This marks the first time in 50 years that a government party will be reelected in Turkey for a second consecutive term, which could ironically make this the most stable government amid the instability which surrounds the July 22 elections. In recent years, the Turkish government has been plagued by an on-going battle between Deniz Baykal's opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) and the AKP on the issue of secularism. When it was time to hold the presidential elections on April 27, the AKP refused to negotiate with the CHP on a common presidential candidate. Instead, the AKP selected its number-two leader, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, as its candidate for the presidency, which sparked intense debate that led to not only the boycott of the presidential elections, but to the rescheduling of the parliamentary elections which took place yesterday. The suspected renewal of an AKP single-party government does not mean that the next five years of AKP rule will be exactly the same as before, however. The emergence of a new AKP opposition from Turkey's far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), as well as an increase in independent ministers taking seats in the parliament, will lead to very different dynamics within the legislative branch for many reasons. First, the MHP will be a far more harsh opposition toward the AKP than the CHP was due to its intense nationalist ideology, and may actually polarize the Turkish political system even more than now. The CHP is also expected to receive a large amount of votes, making it if not the main opposition then as a very close second. Members of the banned pro-Kurdish Party have changed their strategy for this election by entering as independent ministers and may also be instrumental in forming a coalition with either of the potential opposition parties. All of this does not change the fact, however, that the AKP will still most likely propose a candidate for presidency from within its own party, which is what led to this whole mess in the first place. Recently, the AKP changed its position on Abdullah Gul's candidacy for president and said that they were ready to discuss the presidential candidate by presenting a list of candidates to the CHP which the parliament could then vote on together. The fact that the AKP is insisting on a member of parliament to be a candidate, and not an independent candidate as proposed by the CHP, means that the AKP still intends to name a candidate for presidency from within its pro-Islamist party. The presidency in Turkey is an important position in that it is looked upon as a bulwark of the traditional, secular system. The president appoints the prime minister, the military's chief of staff, university rectors, diplomats, and members of the country's highest court among other things. It is argued that an AKP presidency, coupled with an AKP government, can dramatically change the whole balance of power in Turkish politics. Additionally, secularists fear that an AKP consolidation of both executive and legislative branches of government could give the AKP incredible wiggle room to appoint friends to numerous governmental positions. This was seen, for example, in 2004 when the AKP passed a law making retirement compulsory at an earlier age than usual, freeing up hundreds of civil service positions for graduates of the imam hatips, or Islamic schools. Either way, the president of Turkey will be elected by the new parliament in September or October of this year. A confident and more assertive AKP government and potential presidency will also have serious ramifications for Turkish foreign policy in regard to Israel and the Middle East. Currently, there is no indication that the AKP will cause any serious problems to the Turkish-Israeli relationship for one important reason: the Turkish military. The relationship between both countries' militaries has flourished because not only is it an economically and militarily important relationship, but both militaries have a common interest in seeing Turkish democracy and secularism remain intact. Polls held during the AKP government reign from 2002 until present indicate that the AKP government has established closer relations with Middle Eastern, or Arab countries, than the West, which includes the United States and Israel. The recent natural gas agreement between Turkey and Iran, for example, shows that Turkey will act in its own interests despite external dismay, especially when it involves the Kurdish issue. Finally, it is important to remember that the AKP government's many positive successes in both domestic and foreign policies can be overshadowed by the increase of anti-American and anti-Semitic materials that have been gaining increasing popularity since 2002. This includes the translation of Mein Kampf into Turkish along with the best-selling book Hitler's Leadership Qualities, to give a couple of examples. Turkish columnists have blamed Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's prime minister, for this but it is difficult to determine whether it is an AKP effect on society or a societal reflection of shifting attitudes. The writer is a research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center at the IDC, Herzliya Heymi Bahar - a GLORIA research associate - contributed to this report.


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