AK Party win shifts balances in favor of political authority

Many in Turkey and abroad wonder how the strictly secular and politically powerful Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) will react.

AK Party win shifts balances in favor of political authority
With the Justice and Development Party's (AK Party) victory in last Sunday's early general elections, grabbing 46.6 percent of the vote, many in Turkey and abroad wonder how the strictly secular and politically powerful Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) will react.

According to a Western military analyst familiar with the Turkish military, the military will go back to its barracks as it can't justify any attempt to intervene in the political process.

Ertuğrul Günay, a liberal social democrat who was recently elected to Parliament for the AK Party, was also very firm in his ideas about a possible military coup. "Even discussing the possibility of a military coup in this age, let alone talking about such a possibility of a military coup will prompt me to issue a file of complaint as a deputy," he said.

Günay, speaking to Today's Zaman in a telephone interview last Friday, said staging a military coup is a crime and would mean an uprising against the will of the people, who voted for the AK Party in last Sunday's elections.

The secular military has long challenged the AK Party's power, claiming it was deceiving people and has an agenda of introducing Islamic rule in the country. But despite this claim, the AK Party had nearly 86 percent of its deputies re-elected -- some liberals and social democrats as well as others from all walks of life -- on the ticket of the AK Party, which in this election moved to closer to the political center.

A senior former general not surprisingly stated his unease about the AK Party's second victory after the November 2002 elections, but hailed Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan's statement made soon after the unofficial election results were revealed last Sunday. Erdoğan vowed to avoid further polarization in Turkish politics and said his party would embrace all of society, irrespective of whether they voted for his party.

He went on to say that his party would not make any concessions from the republic's basic principle: secularism.

Erdoğan also said he would govern for all the Turks and, at the same time making a reference to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the fonder of Turkish Republic in 1923, added, "I understand the message from those who did not vote for us."

"Erdoğan's remarks have given me hope for the country's future in the sense that he would not allow tension, such as insisting on [Foreign Minister Abdullah] Gül's presidency. His statement was like a statement that came from a statesman. But Professor Üskül [Zafer's] remarks that Atatürk's principles and revolutions should be taken out of the constitution concerned me," the same former senior general told Today's Zaman.

On July 27, Sabah daily quoted law professor and new AK Party deputy Üskül as saying Atatürk's principles and revolutions should be removed from the constitution, in attempts to prepare a civilian constitution to replace the current 1982 military iteration.

"Ideologies are set forth by the parties. Every party can defend an ideology. Thus a diversity of opinions will emerge. A Kemalist party can also be established. But constitutions should be designed to treat all these ideologies equally. The exclusion of Atatürk's ideology in the preamble and in different parts of the constitution will not decrease the importance of Atatürk principles," Üskül said.

The founder of modern, secular Turkey, Atatürk was an army officer who established the republic in 1923 after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Among his reforms were women's suffrage, restricting Islamic dress and replacing the Arabic script in Turkish with the Latin alphabet.

The main concern over how the military will react to the AK Party's victory stems from the fact that the TSK has intervened in Turkey's political system five times, including two military coups, in the republic's history. The last and the fifth intervention came in the form of a memorandum posted on the Web site of the Turkish General Staff on April 27, warning the government against electing Gül as president.

Gül, however, hinted at a press conference last Wednesday that he could stand as president, as the first task of the new parliament, which convenes in early August and after it selects a speaker, will be to elect a new president.

Devlet Bahçeli, leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which captured 70 seats in Parliament, hinted at their possible support of Gül's candidacy to Sabah daily yesterday. Wearing an Islamic headscarf, as Gül's wife does, is illegal in government offices and schools.

Military to go back to its barracks

Due to the "e-memorandum" issued by the General Staff, only recently perceived by some as an attempt to undermine the AK Party's surge, many fear that the military might intervene -- despite the economic and social repercussions of such a move.

But as a Western military analyst told Today's Zaman, the TSK has no justification in acting against the will of the people, half of which voted for the AK Party. "My guess is that military will go back to their barracks as they did in the early 1980s when [then] Prime Minister [and later President] Turgut Özal displayed political leadership and forced Gen. Necip Torumtay to resign when he opposed the Turkish decision to open a second front for the US during the first Gulf War." The AK Party, given a mandate by almost half of the public, should be able to keep all institutions within their area of duty, preventing them from intervening in politics, the same source said.

The annual meeting of the Supreme Military Council (YAŞ) is to convene under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Erdoğan Aug. 1-4, at which time almost half of the officer corps will change positions as a result of new appointments and retirements.

Additionally, Turkish Air Force and Naval commanders will be replaced, while Turkish Chief of General Staff Gen. Yaşar Büyükanıt will remain in his post for another year, as will Turkish Land Forces Commander Gen. İlker Başbuğ, who is expected to replace Büyükanıt as the new chief of General Staff next year.

Whatever the military's current and future position against the AK Party rule, the arrival of two new commanders in the navy and the air force will not change the general stance within the TSK, a Turkish military analyst said. The naval and air force commanders are not the ones affecting the sizable army and the General Staff, the same analyst stated.

Gül -- when he served briefly as prime minister following the November 2002 elections -- Prime Minister Erdoğan and Defense Minister Vecdi Gönül stated their reservations regarding the YAŞ sackings of officers allegedly linked to Islamic fundamentalism. They did so over grounds that the dismissals should be subject to a court hearing.

These politicians are expected to continue voicing their reservations.

Meanwhile a statement was released by the General Staff on Wednesday that said appointments of generals and admirals were not made during YAŞ meetings, contrary to public belief. "In other words, YAŞ has neither authority nor responsibility over appointments," it added.

The General Staff statement once again openly challenged the civilian authority's sphere of influence.

'New vegetable in the soup' and a cross-border possibility

Over 20 independent deputies affiliated with the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP) were elected to Parliament and they, along with the MHP, signaled they would not oppose Gül's presidential candidacy.

One Western analyst, describing the election of DTP deputies to Parliament as a "new vegetable in the soup," said their possible compromise with the AK Party over Gül means the government in return will prevent the military from staging a cross-border operation to purse terrorists from the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which the government has already been reluctant to do.

In addition, unless the PKK renews its violent campaign, there will be no justification for allowing the military to invade northern Iraq, the same analyst said. The number-one task for the government is address the economy and unemployment problem, which according to unofficial figures is around 20 percent, said Turkish economic analysts.

Meanwhile both the Turkish and the Western military analysts did not rule out last-minute dialogue between Erdoğan and the military, which could persuade the prime minister to convince Gül not to stand as a presidential candidate.

However, Sunday's elections were also a kind of a referendum on Gül, and 47 percent approved his presidency, the Western analyst noted.

Sunday's Zaman
Güncelleme Tarihi: 29 Temmuz 2007, 13:33