Turkish impasse

The veto by Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer on constitutional changes backed by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK) did not just torpedo party leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s effort to become prime minister. It also sent a signal to the new government that it cannot be allowed to jeopardize the post-Kemal regime. In Turkey, the government is not the main locus of political power. The parliamentary system is controlled by the military bureaucracy. Recent polls have highlighted that the post-Kemal regime has been stretched to its limits. This does not mean that we are about to see its transformation, much less its collapse. In effect, the victory of political Islam and the landslide defeat of the traditional parties (with the exception of the Republican People’s Party) was a milestone for the Turkish political system, but was still short of a genuine political transformation. In its effort to defeat political Islam, the post-Kemal regime had banned historical leader Necmettin Erbakan from politics. It has treated Erdogan in a similar way. The fact is that it insists on excluding him even after the AK’s electoral victory means that it wants to make clear who is the real power-holder. Everything seems to suggest that the military bureaucracy has no intention of engaging in a direct confrontation with the new government in order to overthrow it. Its aim is to trap the government, to wear it out and to discredit it politically. It’s no coincidence that Erdogan fell into the trap and set the threshold far too high as regards the date for EU membership talks. Similarly, it is no coincidence that Erdogan’s close aides such as Prime Minister Abdullah Gul and Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis not only embraced Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash’s intransigence on the Cyprus question but also rejected the EU’s decision on the island’s accession. It not clear yet what Erdogan’s reaction will be, but he has little room to maneuver. Judging by his recent oscillation, he himself seems to waver. This tarnishes his credibility at home and abroad. In that way, however, he becomes even more vulnerable to pressure from the post-Kemal regime. The tactics of the post-Kemal regime also underscore that it is, itself, caught up in its own contradictions. On the one hand, it favors a European orientation but, on the other, it fears that allowing adaptation to the acquis communautaire will destroy itself and inaugurate a new political era. The regime wants a Europe a la carte, but this is unfeasible.

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