Monday, July 23, 2007

Where is Turkey headed?

Election results no political revolution, but rather expression of disappointment,7340,L-3428732,00.html
Zvi Elpeleg
Published: 07.23.07, 14:19 / Israel Opinion

The victory of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Muslim party raises the question of whether the Turkish people are turning back to the period that preceded Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey in 1923.

The truth of the matter is that there is no political revolution here, but rather, an expression of disappointment over the secular regimes that were unable to transform Turkey into a welfare state that cares for the weaker socioeconomic strata.

With the absence of any real workers' party, the gap between the rich and the poor is widening. Corruption too is also continuing to thrive. Turkey's black market accounts for 40 percent of its economy; the wealthy are becoming wealthier, the poor receive no aid and only the Muslim party is making an effort to fill the vacuum created by the economic elites and the secular political establishment, which is corrupt for the most part.

Another factor that may serve to explain the Muslim party's strengthening is the disappointment over the European Union's refusal to open its doors, which the Turks have been knocking on for years. It appears that this refusal has led many – also among the elite - to the conclusion that there is no point in continuing the efforts to become accepted into the European club.

Surveys show that the rate of proponents of joining the EU has dropped from 80 percent at the beginning of the process to a mere 30 percent.

What will the army do?
Two questions are most prominent in wake of the Islamic victory in the elections, the first concerning the identity of the next president. In the event that the Justice and Development Party manages to assert its power and bring about the election of a party member to the presidency, a tough reality will prevail.

The Turkish president has substantial powers and until now it was he alone who prevented the appointment of hundreds of ruling party members to key posts in the public administration, and in so doing halted the regime's Islamization.

If a compromise candidate is found for the presidential post, there is a chance that the political system will be able to continue functioning. However, if Erdogan insists on a man such as his party colleague, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, becoming president, fierce struggles would emerge and their outcome would be hard to predict.

Another critical question is how the army would respond. According to the constitution it has a political role, and in a picturesque

way it can be figuratively described as follows: With the constitution of 1923, Kemal Ataturk moved forward the engine that has since been leading the Turkish train towards the West. The army was assigned a role: To guard the train so that it continues on its journey. Each time the train was derailed – and this has happened four times – the army left its barracks and put it back on track in the direction of the West.

Will the army take action this time as well to safeguard the mission assigned by the nation's founder, or will it find a way for dialogue with the Muslim regime?

Regarding the Israeli point of view, the heads of the Turkish regime are reiterating that their relationship with us will continue to strengthen. In my view there is a good chance of this happening.

The writer is an expert on Turkey and a former ambassador to Turkey

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