Turkish paradox

At the time when Ankara is using all means at its disposal to pressure the European Union into announcing a date for the beginning of membership talks, Turkey’s democratic deficit has become blatantly manifest. The barring of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, leader of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), from Parliament is the most blatant indication of the true nature of the post-Kemal regime – a bizarre parliamentary system supervised by the Turkish military. Erdogan is former mayor of Istanbul and his party is widely expected to win tomorrow’s parliamentary elections. He is the expression of the most modern and moderate version of political Islam. If he did not exist, the guardians of Turkey’s secular state should invent him. Yet, he was banned with summary procedures and on ridiculous grounds. As if this were not enough, the regime has even threatened to invalidate the votes for the Islamic party. It is common knowledge that the West has little sympathy for political Islam and does not wish to cause any rift in its ties with Ankara. Even so, it cannot turn a blind eye to the crude violations of the most basic of democratic principles. The EU may tolerate the arbitrariness of the post-Kemal regime but has no intention of discussing Turkey’s EU membership seriously – not even as a long-term prospect. For this reason it has refused to commit itself on a specified date for the start of accession talks with Turkey. Culturally speaking, and although they would only voice this behind closed doors, the majority of the European officials see Turkey as an alien body. For the time being, they invoke the fact that the country is far from meeting the requisite criteria. The stance of the post-Kemal regime is also inconsistent. On one hand, it stands in favor of a pro-European orientation while, on the other, it justly fears that allowing the country’s adaptation to European standards would be self-destructive and would inaugurate a new political era for Turkey. The Turkish regime wants an a la carte Europe, but this cannot be granted. So far, the government has wavered. The recent reforms are a significant step toward democratization, but the lack of adaptation remains serious. Tomorrow’s polls will be no turning point. Still, the expected victory of the Islamic-oriented party will bring to the surface the endemic contradictions of the Turkish political system and, in this sense, it will affect developments.

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