Tyranny of the majority in Turkey

In a country divided between east and west, a park in the center of Istanbul has sparked what activists are calling “Taksim Solidarity,” others the “Turkish Spring.”

By
June 15, 2013 22:42
3 minute read.
Anti-government protester holds a Turkish flag during a demonstration in Ankara, June 2, 2013.

Turkey protest 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Umit Bektas)

In a country divided between east and west, a park in the center of Istanbul has sparked what activists are calling “Taksim Solidarity,” others the “Turkish Spring.” The reality is that the events in Turkey are neither.

The conquest of Taksim Square on June 1 was not a continuation of the demonstrations in Cairo’s Tahrir square but rather, at least in part, a reaction to it. The sudden ascent of Islamic democracies in post-authoritarian states in the Middle East has engendered a sense of urgency within secular, liberal and nationalist constituencies in Turkey.

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Given that unrest is likely to persist in the near term and a crackdown on central demonstrations in Istanbul and Ankara will result in hundreds if not thousands of arrests, as well as significant casualties, a political solution is the only pragmatic outcome. While lacking central organization, the participation of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) in ongoing demonstrations opens the door for negotiation of such a political settlement. While Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who maintains the support of almost half the population, will not acquiesce to demands for his resignation, a series of Justice and Development Party (AKP) political concessions may alleviate prevailing tensions on the streets of Istanbul.

With this in mind, the Constitutional Reconciliation Commission (CRC) may be a forum for a solution.

Comprised of representatives from Turkey’s four parliamentary parties, the CRC maintains a prevailing mandate until July 1 to reach a compromise on a package of amendments to the 1982 constitution. As such, the CRC must meet in an emergency session, coming to an agreement on a package of limited constitutional reforms, submitting them for immediate national referendum. These reforms must address the underlying cause of unrest in Turkey, that is, the AKP’s monopoly over political power and the inability of the political opposition to represent the interests of secular, nationalist and liberal constituencies in parliament. In particular, the reforms must include a constitutional amendment which decreases the threshold for parliamentary election from the present requirement necessitating 10 percent of the popular vote.

Elected to a majority share of parliamentary seats in three consecutive elections, Erdogan and the AKP have been accused by opposition parties of steadily steering Turkey toward Islamic rule. Nearing the end of his third and final term as prime minister, Erdogan has aimed to establish a US-style presidential system, in order to maintain his role as the supreme arbitrator of power for an additional 10 years. With this in mind, the uprising in Turkey is not about liberation in 2013, but rather about 2024, and the longterm safeguarding of secular-national interests from the tyranny of the majority.

Unrest in Turkey is the manifestation of a defunct political opposition, and constitutes the last stand of secular, liberal and nationalists groups, rendered powerless in parliament, to preempt the establishment of an AKP democratic-dictatorship. While revolutions of the Arab Spring sought to topple authoritarian systems, the events in Turkey are the effect of an immature democracy, an extension of a polarized and ineffective political system. They are a byproduct of a strong military tradition which protected the interests of the secular-nationalist constituency. A military which has been subdued in the AKP courts, one which may have been present in the streets and possibly the halls of government if it was 1980. Left unprotected against the will of the majority, from behind their barricades in Taksim and in front of the Parliament in Ankara, secular, liberal and nationalist constituencies are crying out for representation, for a say in the determination of Turkey’s future.

In past years Ankara has presented itself as a beacon of stability, stationed between the economic crisis in Western Europe and political instability in the Middle East. While Erdgoan and the AKP correctly acknowledge that their policy represents the will of the majority, the apparent absence of political liberalism in Turkey will prevent it from joining the world’s family of civilized nations. That said, the government’s response to unrest which has consumed the country will determine the long-term trajectory of Turkey’s rapid rise to international prominence. The answer to Ankara’s pursuit of international legitimacy is written on the walls of Taksim Square. “Unite the nation,” embrace political pluralism, and mature into a liberal democratic system.

The author is an intelligence analyst specializing in the Middle East and North Africa for Max Security Solutions, a geopolitical risk consulting firm. He has worked previously at the Institute for the Study of Israel in the Middle East at Denver University, and at the Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.


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