Erdogan’s challenge

Turkish Justice and Development Party leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s statement criticizing Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash and Ankara’s policy on Cyprus is a direct challenge to the post-Kemal establishment. All the more so when it follows a diametrically opposed decision by the National Security Council in which his close colleagues, the premier and foreign affairs minister, participated. Erdogan holds no official post but the road toward the post of premier has opened up for him, despite the obstacle which President Ahmet Necdet Sezer has tried to put in his way. Erdogan’s statement has extra weight, as it directly questions the traditional guardianship of the military and bureaucratic regime over the parliamentary system. The recent elections in Turkey showed that the regime has reached its limits, though this does not mean it will collapse. The victory of political Islam and the downfall of traditional parties are a landmark, but they do not signal a change in the political system itself. Erdogan is exploiting the crisis in the regime and the fact that his plans for reform are supported by ideologically opposed political and social forces, the European Union and Washington, where Erdogan was received recently with the honors befitting a serving prime minister. The Turkish establishment is not used to such challenges, but the international climate does not favor military intervention. This is why the military bureaucracy is not in a position to have a full-on confrontation with the Islamist reformers. Its aim is to discredit them politically. Developments in Cyprus will not depend exclusively on how either side in Ankara or the breakaway statelet in northern Cyprus view their interests on the island.

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