Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Mustafa Sarigul: A Progressive for Turkey?

PHOTO from Hürriyet Daily News

Emphasizing the need for change with an enthusiasm for grassroots organizing and a new kind of politics akin to that of Barack Obama during the America presidential campaign, Mustafa Sarigul, the three-term mayor of Istanbul's Sisli district, is positioning himself to pose a serious challenge to both the AKP and the CHP in the November 2011 parliamentary elections. Sarigul resigned from the CHP last year following a dramatic fallout with the party resulting from his consistent challenging of CHP leader Deniz Baykal. TDH will become a formal political party once it clears formal legal hurdles, at which point the mayor says he will resign to focus on the 2011 elections.

At an event held for foreign press this afternoon, former Turkish Ambassador to the United States Faruk Logoglu, who has joined the TDH outlined the movement's plans and how its agenda differs from the political parties in power at present. Logoglu spoke alongside his youthful female colleague, 32-year-old Zeynep Dereli, who advises the TDH on foreign policy issues. Elaborating on TDH's plans to establish a broad-based social democratic party, Logoglu talked of the need for an alternative in Turkish politics at a time he said is defined by economic uncertainty and disenchantment with the government. Key to TDH's agenda is the European Union accession process, which Logoglu and Dereli characterized as stagnate under the AKP. Dereli went so far as to question the commitment of the AKP to join the EU, and both spoke of the need to re-focus Turkish foreign policy on transatlantic relations. Other big ticket items were the need to bridge the development gap in the southeast, as well as the wealth divide throughout the country; reform of the judiciary, including an overhaul of the High Council of Prosecutors and Judges (HSYK) and the need to expedite judicial proceedings; repeals of restrictions on freedom of expression facilitated by Article 301 and 318 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK); revision of the constitution and other laws in place that allow for military intervention in civilian affairs; and a rejuvenated initiative that would include engagement with Kurdish actors outside the state.

Logoglu said TDH polling has the party winning at least 13 percent of the vote, with more of its votes coming from the AKP's network of support than that of the CHP. Confident TDH would easily clear the 10 percent threshold needed by a political party to enter the Parliament, Logoglu confidently asserted the TDH's main advantages came in its early organizing efforts and ability to attract women and youth. These two groups are repeatedly emphasized as key demographic targets for the future party, which Logoglu claimed were also quite active in its leadership. The TDH has a gender quota of 30 percent in place at all electoral levels. According to the TDH, the movement has so far mobilized over 600,000 volunteers and established offices in 79 Turkish cities. Plans for offices in Brussels and Washington are in the works.

Also emphasized was the TDH's plans for a democratic inner-party structure, which the CHP has long lacked and to which Sarigul, among others, have fallen victim. CHP leader Deniz Baykal has held the CHP chairmanship for the vast majority of its post-coup history, and with an iron-clad grip that has long fueled charges of inner-party authoritarianism. Contrarily, the TDH said its new party chairmanship will be elected by a vote of all registered party members and will have a term limit of two years. Members of parliament will also be determined through a more democratic process rather than by headquarters, and the positions of party leader and prime minister will be held by two separate persons (like in Germany's SDP).

I have written frequently about the lack of a viable Turkish left in Turkey, especially during the past years when the CHP's increasingly nationalist stances have been so extreme as to place its membership in the Socialist International (SI) in serious jeopardy. For a comprehensive post on the CHP I posted before last year's municpal elections, see Jan. 11, 2009 post; for my first, and longest post on the demise of the Turkish left, see my Feb. 13, 2008 post.

TDH on the Issues

The Kurdish Conflict: Logoglu emphasized the need for Kurdish actors to be involved in the Kurdish process and expressed criticism of the state-centered conflict resolution efforts. Specifically, he highlighted the dearth of AKP consultation with civil society groups, as well as the delay to bring reform proposals to parliament and the domination of the Ministry of the Interior in terms of process. Twice Logoglu laid out alternative process by which the state would devise a plan, submit it summarily to parliament, seek civil society consultation, take it back to parliament, pass it, and then implement it. Logoglu did not address engaging combatants in any sort of negotiation effort, which, of course, would be the most difficult thing to sell in Turkey. According to Logoglu, the time it has taken for reforms in the AKP's Kurdish opening to go to parliament has solidified opposition and seriously imperiled current reform efforts, especially as the Kurdish DTP, which favors negotiations with the PKK, was largely shutout of the process.

The Transatlantic Relationship: Both Logoglu and Dereli emphasized that the EU accession process, in addition to Turkey's larger transatlantic position, was not merely a foreign policy choice, but a wider strategic objective with profound implications for Turkish domestic policy. Dereli sharply derided Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu's foreign policy, saying the "zero problems with neighbors policy" was unoriginal in that this is, of course, what all countries want, while implying that Turkey must make strategic choices that do not jeopardize its transatlantic position or alienate its neighbors such as Israel or Azerbaijan. Specifically, she mentioned Iran, iterating her fears that Turkey would refrain from voting for sanctions against Iran at the UN Security Council and thus further jeopardizing its standing with Europe and America. According to Dereli, Turkey should vote with its transatlantic partners. Logoglu also criticized Davutoglu, lauding some elements of the current Turkish foreign policy while pointing out that even in areas of great progress, such as Turkey's rapprochement with Syria, fundamental issues remain unsettled.

Cyprus: While wholeheartedly supportive of the EU accession process, Logoglu was candid about the problems with Cyprus and the necessity to pursue conflict resolution efforts. Dereli was optimistic despite acknowledging the unlikelihood of Talat winning in April elections, saying that perhaps the hardline Eroglu will be more able to negotiate a deal that is satisfactory to hardline parties in borth Northern Cyprus and Turkey. For his part, Eroglu acknowledged the inconsistensy in Turkish pledges to open up its ports to Cyprus, but was also sharply critical of the EU decision to admit Cyprus and not follow through on its old promise that Greece's 1981 admission would not adversely affect prospects for Turkish membership.

The Economy: Both Logoglu and Dereli pointed to the development gap between Turkey's West and East, declaring that the AKP has done little to address fundamental inequalities. Dereli evinced her argument by citing that a mere 10 percent of government subsidies for new investment were spent in the southeast while 35 percent were spent in the Marmara region. Logoglu declared the need for even greater foreign direct investment, which has been a tremendous accomplishment of the AKP, as well as the need to continue to develop a free market economy that is globally competitive.

Secularism: Logoglu spoke of a secularism that is "respectful" of all beliefs, and the need to find solutions (accomodations?) on deeply divisive issues like the headscarf.

UPDATE I (2/18) -- Sarigul is voicing his opposition to the Council of State's recent decision on reducing the difference in coefficients between students graduating from imam-hatip and vocational schools and those graduating from other high schools.

No comments: