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Turkey After the Verdict: Back to Normal?

Turkey After the Verdict: Back to Normal?

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Originally published in July 2008, this brief discusses how the decision by Turkey's constitutional court to warn and sanction, but not close the Justice and Development Party (AKP), offers an opportunity to Turks and Turkey's international partners.
Originally published in July 2008, this brief discusses how the decision by Turkey's constitutional court to warn and sanction, but not close the Justice and Development Party (AKP), offers an opportunity to Turks and Turkey's international partners.

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Published by: German Marshall Fund of the United States on Sep 23, 2010
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WASHINGTON — The decision by Turkey’s constitutional court to warnand sanction, but not close the rulingJustice and Development Party (AKP),oers an opportunity to Turks andTurkey’s international partners. Ateralmost a year o distraction and disar-ray, Ankara may now be able to ocuson the most pressing problems acingthe country. Europe and the UnitedStates may now be able to treat Turkey as a “normal” country again. Muchwill depend on whether the court’sdecision ushers in a period o moderation or renewed polarization,and whether the AKP government usesits renewed reedom o action to thinkstrategically about external policy.
Interpreting the Decision
Admit it or not, most observers weresurprised by the verdict. Over thepast months, Turks on all sides, andTurkey’s international interlocutors,had prepared themselves or a party closure and, most likely, a ban on key AKP political fgures. In the event, thecourt stepped back rom this “nuclearoption,” leaving the current politicalconstellation in place. Some will spec-ulate that a quiet deal may have beenstruck between Prime Minister RecepTayyip Erdo
an, top generals, andothers in the secular establishment:AKP let in power, but with a promiseo moderation on headscarves,education policy, and other criticalissues in the secularism debate. Aslikely, and perhaps more importantor the longer term, diverse sectorsin Turkey may have judged thatthe costs o a party closure weresimply too high. The economy,already under pressure rom politicalrisk and troubles in global markets,would have been badly hurt. Turkey’sEU candidacy, already troubled,would have been dealt a urther blow.An outright suspension o accessionnegotiations could not be ruled outand, once suspended, Turkey’scandidacy would be difcult orimpossible to restart.Even or hard-line Kemalists eager tosee Erdo
an out o power and AKP’spolitical primacy brought to an end,it was never clear that a party closurewould bring the desired result. AKPwould likely have reorganized under adierent name, and perhaps securedan even larger mandate in newgeneral elections. In the worst case,AKP supporters and opponents mighthave gone to the streets, with unore-
Turkey After the Verdict: Back to Normal?
by Dr. Ian O. Lesser
Dr. Ian O. Lesser is a senior transatlantic fellow with the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF). The views expressedhere are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of GMF.
, DC
Summary: The decision by Turkey’sconstitutional court to warn andsanction, but not close the Justiceand Development Party (AKP),offers an opportunity to Turks andTurkey’s international partners.After almost a year of distractionand disarray, Ankara may now beable to focus on the most pressing problems facing the country. Europeand the United States may now beable to treat Turkey as a “normal”country again. Much will dependon whether the court’s decisionushers in a period of moderation orrenewed polarization, and whether the AKP government uses itsrenewed freedom of action to thinkstrategically about external policy.
seeable consequences or internal stability. This scenario,however unlikely, must still be regarded as one o the ewpaths to a military coup o a traditional kind. Politicalrictions alone would not be sufcient.
Some Lessons
So, Turkey has stepped back rom the brink. Several lessonscan be drawn rom this experience. First, in today’s Turkey,public opinion counts. AKP has arguably understood thisbetter than any o the other orces on the political scene.No sector, rom the military to the business community,rom secular nationalists to “Islamists,” can ignore thisreality. This is a marked change rom even a decade ago, andit imposes real constraints on the military, the state, and notleast, political parties. This is a signifcant dimension o Turkey’s progressive Europeanization and convergence withtransatlantic norms.Second, the international context matters. Withoutquestion, the Turkish discourse in recent years has beendriven by resurgent nationalism, a degree o xenophobia,and an internal stability “lens” aecting policy toward every-thing rom the Kurdish issue to the European Union. It hasbeen especially pronounced in relations with the United States(the court’s original indictment against AKP made requentmention o Washington’s alleged role in encouraging Turkey’sdrit toward religious politics). But despite this pervasiveclimate o suspicion, the very negative international reactionto the prospect o a party closure arguably had some role inthe outcome. Certainly, it has been a key part o the Turkishdebate. At the broadest level, Ankara has important businessto attend to in its region and in transatlantic relations.Domestic political turmoil inevitably limits the energy letor credible international initiatives.Third, the rictions in Turkish society will remain andperhaps deepen. The trends that have put AKP in powerand polarized Turkish society have been gathering ordecades, and the resulting tensions over the uture o thecountry will not be resolved by the court’s ruling. AKPorms a majority government in Turkey today because itsmessage o cultural conservatism and populism resonateswith the electorate, it is well-unded and well-organized atthe local and national levels, and it has a charismatic leader.The party has also presided over a prolonged period o higheconomic growth in the wake o the fnancial collapse o 2000-2001. The lack o an eective political opposition hasreinorced these advantages. As many observers have noted,AKP’s rise has been as much about class as about religion.The current reality is not so much the struggle o embattledsecular elites against a more religious mass o provincialorigins, but rather an ongoing competition between parallelelites—secular and religious, cosmopolitan, and provincial—in various sectors. With AKP controlling parliament andthe presidency, and increasingly prominent in the statebureaucracy and the economy, the AKP ascendancy inTurkish society will be hard to reverse.
The Day After–and Beyond
The verdict seems genuinely to have taken Turks by surprise. All sides will now ace some critical decisions onthe internal and external ronts. Open questions abound.Erdo
an and AKP will now ace a key test on style andsubstance. A somewhat chastened party leadership may opt or a period o consolidation and moderation, avoiding“hot button” issues that might reopen the legal challenge.Less likely, but quite possibly, the AKP leadership, andErdo
an in particular, will see the court’s decision as avindication and an opportunity to renew the struggle orpower across multiple issues, including the highly symbolicones.
“AKP’s rise has been as muchabout class as about religion. Thecurrent reality is not so much thestruggle of embattled secular elitesagainst a more religious mass of provincial origins, but rather anongoing competition betweenparallel elites.”

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