What went wrong after the July 22 elections?

When it comes to what the AK Party did wrong and self-criticism within the party, there is a willingness for this, AK Party parliamentary group leader Nihat Ergün claims

What went wrong after the July 22 elections?
When the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) came to power for a second term with 47 percent of the popular vote in the general elections of July 22, 2007, there were great expectations in the air.

It was the first time in recent Turkish political history that an incumbent party had won another election. But just less than one year after the elections, the Turkish political system is facing one of the heaviest crises it has ever seen, the nature of the regime is under discussion and there is confusion about where political authority lies. The Constitutional Court's decision to overturn a government-led reform allowing students to wear the Muslim headscarf at universities has largely been interpreted as a seizure of Parliament's authority by the judiciary.

As a result of the Constitutional Court's decision, a regime crisis has arisen from the upset balance between the legislature and the judiciary which has inflicted significant damage on the country's parliamentary democracy.

One year after the elections, there is a closure case pending against the AK Party. According to experts the economy is showing early warning signs of a coming crisis and there is uncertainty about the future.

But on the night of the election last year, AK Party leader and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in his victory speech, promised something quite different: "It is a new page. I want to underline that our door is open to everyone. I urge everyone to act in accordance with the requirements of this new page."

Erdoğan also stressed that his party would act responsibly, with full awareness of being the central party in Turkish politics: "This victory, instead of spoiling us, increased the heavy burden on our shoulders. The success should not change our course. As for the voters who did not vote for us, I can understand the message that you gave through the ballot box. Don't worry, your votes are valuable for us. We respect your choices. We see different choices as an asset of democratic life."

Erdoğan had said that his government would continue to move toward the EU with determination and continue with its reforms. The government had also promised to give Turkey a new civilian, democratic constitution.

But the preparations for a new constitution were put on the shelf and the EU process has been very slow. There are serious concerns in certain segments of society related to their lifestyles and questions over whether the AK Party will defend the rights of those who did not vote for it.

Dialogue between the AK Party and the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) was problematic from the beginning due to the opposition of the CHP to Abdullah Gül's candidacy for the presidency. The CHP did not name anyone for this position but hinted that it would prefer someone whose wife did not wear the headscarf, as Gül's did, and the efforts of the AK Party to communicate with the main opposition party failed. Since then there has been no dialogue between the two parties.

In addition, a segment of the mainstream media frequently published stories claiming that the lifestyle of the 'secularists' was in danger. The AK Party had difficulties assuaging the concerns of those segments of society.

But when it comes to what the AK Party did wrong and self-criticism within the party, there is a willingness for this, AK Party parliamentary group leader Nihat Ergün claims. But now, he says, is not the time for that.

"This is not the time to search for the AK Party's mistakes because there have been greater mistakes than those made by the AK Party," Erg ün explains. One day, of course, the AK Party will evaluate its own mistakes, but not today, Ergün says.

"The process that we are passing through is not letting the AK Party take a self-critical approach and question itself about its own mistakes. First of all, Parliament's monopoly on the task of legislation has been removed. This is a very big issue. This subject is more important than anything. Even the biggest mistake of the AK Party is not equal to this mistake."

Professor Mehmet Altan claims that one of the main reasons for this political crisis is that the AK Party did not use its power for change and reform. According to him, the power of the AK Party was significant enough to be able to undertake radical reforms that would have enabled Turkey to meet international standards, but this did not materialize.

"It promised a civil constitution, but did not do it. It promised to accelerate the EU process, but it slowed down the process. Instead of integrating into world politics, it turned toward local politics. It began to compete with the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) on nationalism. In short, it had the power for change, but it preferred to stay in the boundaries of the status quo established by Ankara," Altan says.

According to Altan, the breaking point for the AK Party started with an incident in Şemdinli from which it never recovered.

In Şemdinli, in the eastern province of Hakkari, on Nov. 9, 2005, two noncommissioned gendarmerie officers and a Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK) informant were caught red-handed as they set off a bomb at a bookstore that killed one person. The trial of the three suspects was transferred to Van for security reasons. Van Prosecutor Ferhat Sarıkaya was disbarred by the Supreme Board of Prosecutors and Judges (HSYK) in April 2006 for exceeding his authority with the indictment in the case, which accused Gen. Yaşar Büyükanıt of involvement in the Şemdinli affair. The AK Party did not support the prosecutor.

Although Altan regards the Şemdinli case as the turning point for the AK Party, intellectual and former politician Mehmet Bekaroğlu thinks the AK Party's problem was related to its ideological stance.

"The AK Party is actually a party that is against the totalitarian system, but it does not make the effort to change this system. It is not questioning this system, it is only questioning the persons within this system," Bekaroğlu says.

"The AK Party has the idea that if the system had been in the good hands, there would be justice. But whoever controls the system, because of the system itself, there would not be justice. This is the main problem of the AK Party; instead of changing the system, it tried to change the people in the system," he argues.

According to Bekaroğlu, the AK Party was thinking that it would seize the system and this would make the system automatically clean and fair. "This is where the fighting started; the holders of the system did not want to leave their positions," he says. "Instead of amending the status of the presidency and making this position fit in the parliamentary democracy, it thought that it would take this position and simply not do the unfair things done by the previous holders of this position. But this attitude led to fighting," Bekaroğlu explains.

Apart from ideological mistakes, the AK Party also made some tactical errors, according to Bekaroğlu. He says that it did not take steps for economical justice. Regarding the headscarf issue, he says, it chose the wrong time and the wrong partner. Bekaroğlu stresses that while the discussions on the new constitution were still ongoing, making amendments regarding the headscarf gave the perfect opportunity to opponents of the AK Party.

Bekaroğlu also said that because of its ideological and tactical mistakes the AK Party is getting lonelier day by day. "If the AK Party had been able to ensure the social justice, even the segments of the society that did not vote for it would have stood behind it," Bekaroğlu says.

Nihat Ali Özcan, a professor at the TOBB University of Economics and Technology, says there is no need to discuss what went wrong in the AK Party because the problems and the discussions Turkey is having are not related to the party's missteps, but are rather a matter of paradigm.

"The problem and the fight are very old. Since its establishment, the paradigm of the republic was not settled. Let's say that you made the best law regarding traffic rules; you still cannot prevent accidents. The standards of democracy are related to the educational level of the citizens, the consciousness of being a citizen and culture. Our standards on this subject are clear," he says.

Özcan also asks a question: As political leaders, if they have the power to appoint anyone they want as deputies, do they have the right to talk about the lack of parliamentary democracy?

Sunday's Zaman

Güncelleme Tarihi: 15 Haziran 2008, 10:17