[DEBATE] : TURKEY: AKP's Landslide Victory (and Growth of the Secular Far Right)
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Sun Jul 22 18:47:15 BST 2007
Newspaper Radikal's "Orijinal Demokrasi" Ad, Unexpurgated:
Transcript of "Orijinal Demokrasi":
Turkey's ruling party heading to landslide victory
If the AKP maintains it 50 percent share of the vote, it could finish
the night with 350 seats in the new parliament.
ANKARA - Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) appears
to be heading to a landslide victory in Sunday�s general election.
With just over one third of the vote counted, Prime Minister Recep
Tayyip Erdogan's AKP has garnered some 50 percent of the ballots
counted. If it maintains this level, the AKP will be returned to
office with some 350 deputies in the 550 seat Grand National Assembly.
The opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), led by veteran Deniz
Baykal, appears to have suffered a snub from the electorate. Having
campaigned on a platform of defending the secular regime against the
perceived threat posed by the moderate pro-Islamist AKP, the CHP has
gathered just under 16 percent of the votes counted so far, well down
on the 22 percent it gained in the November. 2002 general election.
The far right National Movement Party (MHP) also seems to have passed
the 10 percent electoral threshold, and is currently polling around 14
No other parties are in contention to pass the threshold.
July 19, 2007
Election in Turkey May Be a Watershed
By SABRINA TAVERNISE
ISTANBUL, July 17 — For 84 years, modern Turkey has been defined by a
holy trinity — the army, the republic and its founder, Mustafa Kemal
Ataturk. Each was linked inextricably to the others and all were
But a deep transformation is under way in this nation of 73 million
and elections this Sunday may prove a watershed: liberal Turks, once
the principal political supporters of the nation's ruling secular
elite, are turning their backs on it and pledging their votes to
religious politicians as well as a broad new array of independents.
They say they are fed up with attempts by the elite to use religion to
divide Turks and that Turkey, a predominantly Muslim democracy with a
rapidly growing economy, needs to relax its controlling approach
towards its own citizens in order to become a modern democracy.
"This election is a power struggle between those who want change and
those who don't," said Zafer Uskul, a prominent constitutional lawyer
and human rights advocate who is running from Prime Minister Recep
Tayyip Erdogan's Islamic-inspired party in southern Turkey. "Religion
is just an excuse."
"In 50 years, people will write that this was the time Turkey started
to come to terms with its own people," added Suat Kiniklioglu, a
foreign policy expert who is one of about 20 liberal Turks who
recently joined Mr. Erdogan's party as part of its effort to appeal
more broadly to secular Turkish society.
The real threat to Turkish democracy, he and others argue, comes not
from Islamic fundamentalism, as the military and the secular parties
it backs contend, but from political meddling by the military.
Commanders have deposed elected governments four times in Turkey's
history and in April challenged the government in a written statement,
Now, as the election approaches, unleashing a power struggle between
the nation's secular elite and a group of religious politicians who
draw their support from Turkey's lower and middle classes, a vocal new
civil society may just tip the balance, and help offset the danger of
rising nationalism. The number of independent candidates running have
more than tripled compared to the last election, many of them members
of smaller parties that would not clear a 10 percent hurdle. "You heat
water to 99 degrees, and it's still water," said Baskin Oran, an
opinionated political science professor running as an independent
candidate in Istanbul. "You heat it one more degree and it's not water
any more. This one degree is the year 2007."
The current shift has its roots in the dual nature of Turkish
democracy. Since the 1940s, a powerful chain of bureaucrats, judges,
and army generals from the secular upper classes have controlled the
most sensitive Turkish affairs, while the elected government,
currently headed by the Justice and Development party of Mr. Erdogan,
manages more mundane aspects, much like a municipality.
But Turkish society has changed markedly in recent decades, with
religious Turks gaining wealth and status and moving into public view.
Women are seen now wearing head scarves — a tradition that early
Turkish legislation tried to change by banning it from public
buildings — as they shop in malls, ride motor scooters and drive cars,
and rules against them seem woefully outdated.
"This narrow shirt of secularism has become a little too tight and
choking for Turkish society," said VolkanAytar, of the Turkish
Economic and Social Studies Foundation, a prominent think tank.
Ilhan Dogus, a member of the Young Civilians, an association of young
people who oppose the military's role in politics, said mischievously
that women in head scarves are more likely than their less religious
counterparts to know that Marx refers to a German philosopher, not the
British department store, Marks and Spencer.
The state elite "wanted society to fit their theory," said Recep
Senturk, a research fellow at the Center for Islamic Studies in
Istanbul. "If religion doesn't disappear, we'll make it disappear
because our theory says so."
Liberals like Mr. Uskul, are pioneers in joining political forces with
Mr. Erdogan's party, which is known by its Turkish initials, AK, and
is considered by many secular Turks to be too Islamic.
In Tarsus, an upper middle class town in southern Turkey that has
supported secular parties in the past, Mr. Uskul, 63, was talking to
lawyers last Wednesday, asking for their vote.
"Some of you might be asking, 'What is he doing in the AK party?' " he
said at the Tarsus Bar Association, peering earnestly through rimless
glasses and clasping his hands humbly between his knees. "There was no
other party to do what I wanted to do in parliament. The people who
should be defending democracy are holding on to military coups."
A woman in a black T-shirt shot back: "I wonder whether you still have
worries about AK as a threat to secularism?" He replied: "My wife has
no concerns. Nor does my daughter, and you shouldn't either."
The portion of Turkish society hanging onto the old order is
shrinking, Mr. Aytar asserts, so when more than a million Turks
gathered this spring to protest what they said was creeping Islamism,
bizarre combinations were on display. People wore masks of Ataturk,
who died more than 50 years ago. The music that played was from 1930s.
"They have calcified," Mr. Oran said.
Mr. Oran estimates that parties representing that order will get about
a quarter of the vote, largely thanks to a campaign of fear that plays
on secularism. An ad last week in Cumhuriyet, a staunchly pro-state
daily, showed a black ballot box and a woman's eyes behind the
rectangular cut-out, evoking a facial veil. "Are you aware of the
danger?" read the headline.
Before the ill-fated presidential election this spring, a television
ad flashed the years 1881 and 2007 on a black screen, evoking the year
of Ataturk's birth and the year that the ad said his secular reforms
The campaign was a final straw for some Turkish liberals, who say that
it distracts from Turkey's real problems: unemployment, insufficient
social security, poor relations with Kurds andArmenians, and European
A dangerous offshoot is nationalists, who play on Turks' fears by
saying that the European Union wants to tear Turkey apart. The main
nationalist party appears set to win enough votes to qualify for seats
in the parliament, supported by Turks who feel overwhelmed by the
sharp changes in the country over the past five years.
Liberals responded to the campaign with wit, appealing to everybody in
Turkey's complex political landscape.
When a liberal newspaper asked for a response to the ads, Ferhat
Tumer, a 32-year-old advertising designer, and his colleagues at the
ad agency Cocuklar began to brainstorm.
The result was a one-minute cartoon in the style of a late-night
American television ad. Only two Turkish television channels were
willing to air it, but it became a cult favorite overnight on the
"Is thinking a crime? Speech not allowed? Is your society excluding
you, or forcing you to take sides?" a salesman-style voice asks in
staccato Turkish. "Move away from fragile systems that are easily
toppled. Original Democracy, adhered to by millions around the world,
is now available in Turkey!"
The ad would probably not have been possible five years ago. But it is
less confrontational than the one that Cocuklar, which means "Kids" in
Turkish, first proposed, which was a direct dig at the military.
Though brave, the newspaper that called for the ads, Radikal, was not foolhardy.
"We believe there is a hidden group of people in Turkey who are bored
by this talk," said Mr. Tumer, fiddling with a green yoyo at a glass
table. "We know you're not afraid of this scarf. When she takes it
off, she still has the same ideas.
"This paranoia, this tension, for the young generation, it's just old
Inherent in Turkey's progress was a strange contradiction. The state
excluded religion from public life, and looked down upon religious,
traditional Turks as backward — yet when those people became more
integrated in public life, it condemned them as enemies of the state.
"Secular urban forces headed by the army look at these people as if
they were aliens from outer space," said Dogu Ergil, a sociology
professor at Ankara University. "But they are the products of the very
regime that left them out."
As Turkey moves ahead, it will have to grapple with where Islam fits
in the building of an equitable society. Almost all Turks, after all,
are observant Muslims. But the liberals say that the debate will not
be over whether Islam should be part of the government, but rather
over what type of secularism fits best.
Mr. Uskul argues that Turkey's bid for European Union membership,
pushed by Mr. Erdogan's party, has set it on a course of democracy
that virtually guarantees secularism.
"The AK party is Turkey's reality," he said, chewing a cracker at a
kebab restaurant. "Turks have to accept it.
"But it should proceed by showing it's not a threat to Turkey. I am an
example of its willingness to reform."
Sebnem Arsu contributed reporting from Istanbul and Tarsus, Turkey.
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