We have moved / Taşındık!

If you're reading this, you've come to the old home for the James in Turkey website. The website has changed servers and adopted a new look ahead of the 2014 local election.

For the latest Turkish politics and election analysis from Michael Daventry redirect your bookmarks to jamesinturkey.com.

Thursday, 31 July 2008

A step back from the brink

They must be exhausted, and it is easy to understand why: the eleven judges who sit on the Constitutional Court only met on Monday to begin deliberating over the chief prosecutor's case to close the ruling AK party. Their decision was announced at six o'clock this evening, meaning that the judges squeezed a week-and-a-half's work into just three days. They met at 9.30am each morning, and did not adjourn for the night until 10.30pm. Even the most optimistic press reports were not predicting a result until Friday.

But it is a reflection of how pivotal this case had become for Turkey that the ruling came so quickly. Court chairman Haşim Kılıç looked visibly tired, bags swinging under his eyes, when he appeared in front of a horde of journalists at six o'clock his evening. He was then prompty bathed in white light as every camera flash in the room went off at once. He had to ask the reporters to stop taking his picture before reading out the decision: six judges - a majority - voted to close Turkey's ruling AK party, four voted to impose financial sanctions, and one voted to dismiss all charges.

Seven votes were needed for closure, a threshold which was not met. The results mean the Constutional Court has accepted, albeit not unanimously, to cut AK's funding. The ruling party will receive only half of its funding this year; the precise figure will be determined when the Budget for 2009 is accepted.

It was so agonisingly close. The deciding vote, if there was such a thing, was probably cast by Mr Kılıç himself, who revealed he was the only one who voted to dismiss the charges. It would have taken just a single judge voting the other way to have brought a decision to close, and put the country into the unprecedented position of bringing down an overwhelmingly popular governing party in an instant. But that is not what happened. The AK Party remains open, its politicians remain unbanned, and the Turkish lira even managed to climb a kuruş or two against the dollar this evening.

AK supporters were naturally delighted. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was greeted with footall chants when he emerged to make a statement at party HQ. He said the decision had lifted away a great uncertainty in Turkey, and reiterated his commitment to European values: "Our path is that towards the EU. There is no return."

He avoided commenting explicitly on the outcome because, as is standard procedure in such cases, the judges' reasons for their decision has not yet been published. But while it is true that their response to Chief Prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalçınkaya's charges will make interesting reading, it is pretty clear what their decision says already: the AK party has been deemed to have behaved in an unsecular manner, but not to so violent a degree that it merits closure.

This is the best result any of us could have hoped for. The Court has demonstrated that Turkey's political system is not necessarily inflexible and compatible only with parties that are militantly secular. There is room for diversity here. At the same time, it has warned that such diversity can only go so far, and that the AK Party has seriously pushed the limits of the secular system. This is more than a slap on the wrists; it is a demand for the government to change its ways.

So what next for Mr Erdoğan's party? The ruling should hopefully subside some of the arrogance and complacence with which it has approached the business of government, particularly since its phenomenal electoral victory last summer. It is true that AK has a very powerful mandate, but it certainly does not have a universal one, and it would do well to remember that more often. Its approach to the recent headscarf debacle was a telling example: having secured the support of the opposition Nationalist Action Party, AK proceded to draft its own law without consulting secularist parties, non-governmental organisations or - heaven forbid - women, and passed it easily in parliament. The law was promptly annulled by the same Constitutional Court that today voted to keep the party open. In matters as controversial as the headscarf, AK must recognise that to govern does not necessarily mean to impose; it can also mean to consult.

That, however, is for the future. Tonight, Turkey takes a step back from the brink. Things could have been a lot worse.

4 comments:

Tapline said...

James, Outstanding read..direct and to the point....stay well....

abuzer said...

Maybe we stepped back from the brink but I am not sure it is such a good thing. Granted the alternative was really bleak as well. Erdogan promised to moderate his positions whenever he needed to play nice with the west or then legislature or when the army started making some noise but proceeded to implement milli gorus policies afterwords. People were optimistic that we would nominate someone like Vecdi Gonul for presidency , which he didn't. People were optimistic that he would change the constitution not only for his needs but he didn't. People were optimistic that he would replace Celik as the minister of education which he didn't. People were optimistic that he would demote likes of Bulent Arinc but now we have Dengir Mir Firat who periodically boils over with rage and genuine hate against us. What will change after this ruling?

I think the lesson that they’ll get from this episode is that they’ll need to take over the legislature and change the YAS rules. I want to be an optimist and think that they will moderate their positions but it seems like making a compromise is synonymous with "wait until an opportunity and so what you had in mind all along".

Few years later people will be talking about how the pendulum swung too far to the direction of islam in public life but speculate that democracy will correct itself. A decade later we'll be a larger and poorer UAE. A capitalist but oppressively theocratic country that doesn't export instability or terror so that no one outside really cares about what goes inside.

Nihat said...

Yeah, things could have been a lot worse, and they still can. Let's hope the country can enjoy a few months of calm when the parliament is on vacation.

Ragan Updegraff said...

Thanks a lot for the post, and we will see what the future holds. Good to see another English-language blog on Turkey.