Thursday, May 15, 2008

Missteps (and Misdemeanors)

In a recent op/ed featured in Today's Zaman, Şaban Kardaş assesses AKP's political failures and evaluates its standing in Turkish politics. Under attack by its staunch secularist "archenemies," Kardaş acknowledges that the party has failed to broaden its coalition and seek the support of influential liberal cadres outside its own leadership circle. Kardaş concurs with arguments that AKP should not be understood as an Islamist party, but rather as a center-right party similar to Germany's Christian Democrats. His analysis follows this line and explains AKP's failures to be center-right failures. An excerpt of his analysis follows:
The AK Party's management of the governance problem since the beginning of the judicial interference in politics, however, increasingly shattered intellectual support for the party. The government's handling of the May Day demonstrations became the final straw and catapulted the AK Party into complete disarray. It appears that the AK Party's last refuge, its identity as a center-right party, no longer provides a safe haven. Rather, it has increasingly come back to haunt the party. Or to put better, many of the party's failings are blamed on the features of center-right politics. On the one hand, liberal reformists, such as İhsan Dağı of Zaman and Berat Özipek of Star, charge the AK Party with repeating the usual habit of center-right parties by failing to stand firm in the face of the secular establishment's threats, hence betraying the cause of democratization and liberalization. Left-wing liberals such as Nuray Mert of Radikal, on the other hand, highlight the populist and authoritarian features of the AK Party grounded in the conservative center-right tradition, and attack its rightist -- i.e., neoliberal -- economic and social policies as reflected in the government's attitude to the workers.

In any case, with its last front under attack, the AK Party is riding an increasingly bumpy road, and is alienated in its struggle for survival every passing day. The intensity of the current political crisis and the deliberate attempts of the neo-nationalist forces to make the country ungovernable are to a large extent forcing the party to commit these mistakes. However, this situation also is a result of acts of omission as well as commission on the AK Party's part, which undermine the effectiveness of its survival strategy. The alienation is an act of commission to the extent that the AK Party overreacted to any criticism of its policies and did not tolerate dissent. It also is an act of omission to the extent that it has failed to address the imbalance between its electoral support base and the identity of the AK Party's leadership and party organization. It could not make inroads into wider sectors of society and open its leadership and core cadres to political actors from outside its own closed circle. Nor could it develop an effective public relations mechanism to communicate its position on controversial issues to society. The case in point is the government's inability to explain in a timely manner the rationale behind the government's insistence on not allowing May Day demonstrations in Taksim Square.
While mostly agreeing with Kardaş, I do think the party needs to answer to the creeping conservatism with which some charge it. A new law making it more difficult to obtain permits by which to sell alcohol and other municipal officials passage of restrictions are often presented as evidence. The issue facing AKP is one of resolving what Robert Bork famously called the "Madisonian dilemma"—what spheres of life should be subject to majority rule and which should not. If AKP can come to a working understanding of this problem, than perhaps it can more effectively convince liberals to join its coalition. Further, the party must work to convince the Turkish public that its liberal, human rights rhetoric is sincere and this means condemning police beatings in Taksim Square.

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