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Turkey's Travails: Outlook and Strategic Consequences

Turkey's Travails: Outlook and Strategic Consequences

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Originally published in May 2008. As Turkey’s Constitutional Court prepares to act on the closure case pending against the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP), Turks across the ideological spectrum are watching and waiting. Predictions and preferences abound; active responses are limited. Caution and inertia appear to be the order of the day, even for those most exposed to the consequences of political and economic turmoil.
Originally published in May 2008. As Turkey’s Constitutional Court prepares to act on the closure case pending against the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP), Turks across the ideological spectrum are watching and waiting. Predictions and preferences abound; active responses are limited. Caution and inertia appear to be the order of the day, even for those most exposed to the consequences of political and economic turmoil.

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Published by: German Marshall Fund of the United States on Sep 23, 2010
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Summary: As Turkey’sConstitutional Court prepares toact on the closure case pending against the governing Justiceand Development Party (AKP),Turks across the ideologicalspectrum are watching and wait-ing. Predictions and preferencesabound; active responses arelimited. Caution and inertiaappear to be the order of theday, even for those mostexposed to the consequences of political and economic turmoil. Yet this crisis, more than others of recent years, could have dramaticconsequences for the evolutionof Turkish society and foreignpolicy. Turkey’s EU candidacymay be irreparably damaged,nationalist tendencies reinforced,and relations with the UnitedStates, already troubled, couldbe further compromised. Turkeycould emerge from its current travails as a less credible and lesscapable actor on the internationalscene.
Foreign Policy Program
Policy Brie 
One o the striking aspects o Turkey’slatest political crisis is its detached, slow-motion quality. As Turkey’s ConstitutionalCourt prepares to act on the closure casepending against the governing Justice andDevelopment Party (AKP), Turks acrossthe ideological spectrum are watchingand waiting. Predictions and preerencesabound; active responses are limited.Caution and inertia appear to be the ordero the day, even or those most exposed tothe consequences o political andeconomic turmoil.Yet this crisis, more than others o recent years, could have dramatic consequencesor the evolution o Turkish society andoreign policy. Indeed, the Turkishtalent or survival and adjustment, andthe proven resilience o the Turkish state,suggest that the most signicantconsequences o this crisis may beexternal rather than internal. Turks may adjust to what some observers are callingan impending “judicial coup.” But Turkey’sEU candidacy may be irreparably damaged, nationalist tendenciesreinorced, and relations with the UnitedStates, already troubled, could be urthercompromised. Turkey could emergerom its current travails as a less credibleand less capable actor on the internationalscene.
Political Dynamics
The prevailing view among inormedobservers is that the Constitutional Courtwill close down the AKP and ban leadinggures in the party (a separate closurecase has been launched against the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party, DTP).The pending indictment accuses some70 individuals in the AKP o seeking toundermine Turkish secularism. Roughly hal are members o parliament, the restare party activists and advisors. I banned,these individuals could be barred rompolitics or ve years. Many would losetheir parliamentary immunity, opening theway or urther prosecution on a variety o charges. A decision in the closure caseis likely within the next six months. Thetiming is signicant. Even i the AKP isclosed, with leading gures barred rompolitics, the party group would retain amajority in parliament and would be ina position to re-emerge under a dierentname. But i the closure occurs toward theend o 2008 or later, the party will havelittle opportunity to regroup prior to localelections in the spring o 2009.Many observers stress that the staunchly secular elements pressing or closure o the AKP are, above all, angling to removePrime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Turkey’s Travails: Outlook and StrategicConsequences
by Dr. Ian Lesser, Senior Transatlantic Fellow,The German Marshall Fund of the United States
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1744 R Street NWWashington, DC 20009T 1 202 745 3950F 1 202 265 1662E ino@gmus.org
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This policy brief reects the author’s conversations in Istanbul and Ankara, Turkey, in April 2008.
 
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Foreign Policy Program
Policy Brie 
rom Turkish politics; all else is secondary. Some would no doubtlike to remove President Abdullah Gul as well. But most observersagree that the presidency is probably beyond the reach o prosecu-tion under current conditions.In recent weeks, Erdogan has held a series o meetings withmembers o parliament and political cadres. By all accounts, theseconsultations have been animated, with some participants openly critical o the party’s leadership since gaining a strong mandate inthe July 2007 national elections. In retrospect, the decision topress orward on controversial issues such as the relaxation o the headscar ban on university campuses, is seen by many asunnecessarily provocative, and part o a general pattern o political hubris. With 47 percent o the popular vote, a solidmajority in parliament, control o the presidency, growing sway over the state bureaucracy—and a weak opposition—the AKP hasaced ew obvious constraints in pressing ahead with its agenda.Erdogan’s energy and charisma are widely seen as encouraging ahighly personalized, tactical approach to politics, at the expense o strategic thinking.With the party now acing closure, its members are divided on themost eective response. AKP is preparing a straightorward legaldeense, but is also contemplating constitutional changes makingit more dicult to close political parties. These would almostcertainly require public reerenda. Early elections are anotherpossible gambit aimed at strengthening the AKP hand. Othersreportedly urge a more vigorous ght, including calls or large-scale demonstrations, something the AKP has eschewed to date.In the meantime, the Prime Minister has embarked on a roundo domestic and oreign travel, including meetings in Damascusto acilitate Syrian-Israeli negotiations (a process that has been un-derway or at least a year). At times like this, the government canuse all the goodwill it can muster.In all likelihood, AKP members o parliament (unless bannedthemselves, members will retain their seats) will regroup within anew party. Some may choose to remain as independents, or evento orm smaller breakaway parties. Even a re-branded AKP couldhave a dierent orientation, whether more moderate, more overtly religious, or more nationalistic in favor. With leading guresremoved rom the political scene, others will see opportunities tomove up within the governing party. Other orces, including thepervasive Fethulah Gulen organization and its business and civilsociety network, will no doubt seek to preserve or increase theirinfuence. The Gulen network has been supportive o the AKP, butthis stance could change i other alternatives emerge.
Alternative Scenarios and Internal Consequences
The canonical scenario envisions the closure o the AKP ollowedby a regrouping o AKP cadres under new colors. The lack o acredible opposition makes it unlikely that the task o orming agovernment will all on the Republican People’s Party (CHP) orthe Nationalist Action Party (MHP). CHP, once a potent center-let party, is now given to nationalist posturing under an agingleadership. MHP remains a marginal actor, although its messageo unreconstructed nationalism is increasingly in tune withTurkish public sentiment, especially among younger voters. Thestage is set or renewed conrontation between a reashioned AKPand hard-line secularists within the military, the judiciary, andelements o the Kemalist elite.Alternative scenarios range rom the mildly optimistic to thecataclysmic. At least one prominent commentator has suggestedthat AKP’s enemies in the constitutional court and elsewheremight still decide to pull back rom a path o “mutually assureddestruction,” opting instead or more limited sanctions against theAKP, or simply removal o the Prime Minister. Or the court couldpress ahead, and even launch additional prosecutions—a whole-sale purge. In this case, AKP supporters might take to the streetsin large numbers. A ew violent provocations could set in motiona series o events leading to an overt military intervention—anunlikely but not inconceivable scenario.Even the canonical scenario would have substantial implica-tions or Turkey’s internal situation. The pending court caseand possible closure will impose a prolonged period o uncer-tainty against a backdrop o global nancial stringency. Turkey’seconomy has already been damaged by this combination o domestic and international pressures. Foreign investors are hedg-ing against urther risk, and the Turkish stock market has lostroughly a third o its value over the last ew weeks. Ater six yearso annual growth in the 6-7 percent range, and a striking increasein oreign investment, the Turkish economy appears headed or aperiod o marked stress. Many Turks argue that economic trouble
“The prevailing view among informedobservers is that the Constitutional Courtwill close down the AKP and ban leading 
gures in the party.”
 
o this kind was already on the horizon beore the onset o thelatest political crisis, but there can be little that the closure case hasdeepened the economic challenge.The eects o the closure cases will all disproportionately onTurkey’s Kurdish population. In the southeast o the country,some 90 percent o the vote in the July 2007 elections went to AKPor DTP. Against a background o continued violence emanatingrom the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the collapse o Kurdishpolitical representation will greatly increase the stakes in Turkey’slong-standing struggle with Kurdish discontent. For all o theunresolved dilemmas o cultural and political rights, pressuresor autonomy and even separatism, Turkey has not suered rominter-communal strie between Turks and Kurds in the southeastor the cities o western Turkey. A crisis o political representationin the southeast, accompanied by PKK violence and worseningeconomic conditions, could heighten the risk o a more generalconrontation along ethnic lines—another unlikely but troublingscenario, with obvious links to the unstable situation across theborder in northern Iraq.
A Clash of Elites?
Since the current conrontation has structural origins inTurkish society and changing demographics. These are mostunlikely to be resolved as a result o political maneuvering or legal judgments. Many Turkish and oreign analysts have interpretedthe rise o AKP as, above all, a class-based phenomenon supportedby populist politics and skillul organization at the grass rootslevel. Urbanization and fourishing small- and medium- sizedbusinesses in Anatolia have all contributed to AKP’s success andunding. More conservative social attitudes and more visiblereligiosity are also part o the mix. It is almost certainly mislead-ing to portray the current political struggle as a simple clashbetween Islamists and secularists. Larger social dynamics are alsoat play, and these underlying orces will not be removed as a resulto party closures or the departure o leading politicians. Almostcertainly, they will remain as part o the Turkish scene, to betaken up by new movements. Turkey’s embattled secularists areimpelled not only by their belie that the struggle or secularism is“existential,” but also by a sense that time is not on their side. Theappointment o top judges by an AKP-oriented president would,over time, change the balance in the constitutional court andmake it ar more dicult to pursue party closures on the groundso anti-secular intent. AKP in power has acilitated the emergenceo a new, parallel elite that is making its presence elt in business,government, and the media.The pending closure case and the prospect o a broad political re-alignment is compelling Turks at many levels o society to look totheir own equities. The commercial dynamism o recent years hasnot changed the importance o the state—and the importance o political access—in the Turkish economy. AKP in government hasproven adept at supporting individuals and rms in their milieuvia the party’s infuence over civil service appointments, govern-ment contracts, and access to avorable nancing. None o thisis new, o course, and it is arguable that the AKP has been moreinclusive and transparent in its behavior than other governmentsin recent Turkish history. But a prolonged period o paralysis, ordivisions within the AKP, could upset economic as well as ideolog-ical alignments. Under these conditions, long-standing anxietiesabout the place o minority groups in the Turkish economy andsociety have come to the ore, including more requent allegationso anti-Semitism and pressure on the Alevi community.
Foreign Policy Effects and Implications for AmericanInterests
Internal and external actors are interwoven in Turkey’s currenttravails. The indictment against the AKP contains a long list o quotes and anecdotes intended to support the charge o anti-secular activity by the party’s leaders. The indictment also makesnumerous reerences to the role o the United States and theEuropean Union as enablers o the AKP’s religious agenda, includ-ing the role o the AKP as a vehicle to promote moderate Islam inTurkey and the Muslim world (Turkey’s participation in the G-8’sBroader Middle East and North Arica Initiative and the Allianceo Civilizations are mentioned explicitly). The sovereignty conscious, nationalistic tone is very much in line with the xeno-phobic mood evident in Turkish society over the last ew years,and refected in the German Marshall Fund o the United States’public-opinion survey 
Transatlantic Trends
and others. Many Turks see the country’s travails as the product o oreign as well asinternal pressures. Reorm-minded internationalists in business,the media, and intellectual circles are increasingly marginalizedand have little voice in political opposition where nationalismo the let (CHP) and right (MHP) prevails. To be sure, the AKPdoes have a substantial globally-oriented action, but an embattledgovernment is less able to act on these instincts.AKP closure and the ensuing political realignment would have im-portant implications or Turkey’s oreign policy and role as a stra-tegic actor. First and oremost, the perception o a “judicial coup”is likely to have a severe eect on Turkey’s already troubled EUcandidacy. EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn has already mentioned the probable suspension o accession negotiations.
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Foreign Policy Program
Policy Brie 

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