Friday, February 15, 2008

A Less Liberal AKP?

Amidst the dramatic rhetoric being exchanged between Prime Minister Erdoğan and CHP opposition leader Deniz Baykal, questions are now being asked about the intentions of the AK Party. Turkish Daily News columnist Karabekir Akkoyunlu asks if the events of the past weeks have "unveiled a less liberal AKP?" Akkoyunlu argues that by placing so much political capital on an explosive issue while delaying consideration of Article 301 raises serious conerns about the intentions of AKP to push forward with its promised reform agenda.
By putting most of its political weight behind the headscarf issue, and therefore placing it at the centre of the country's political agenda, the AKP has presented the ban as Turkey's foremost, if not only, democratic deficit. That is hardly the case. Limits to all forms of freedom of expression, discrimination against religious minorities, and a potentially explosive socio-political situation in Turkey's Kurdish populated southeast are, at the very least, issues of equal importance and urgency.
Acknowledging the headscarf ban to be unjust, Akkoyunlu asks an important question that is possibly reflective of growing disillusionment with AKP as long as it stalls on the rest of its liberal reform agenda. These concerns have been echoed by the international press and in Europe to some degree, but they are still very much a reaction to the amendments. It seems to early too call the sincerity of AKP into question. The headscarf issue was not something apart from AKP's set of promised reforms, but the early compromise and rush for a vote has been and will likely to continue to be a concern.

International coverage of the past week has been plentiful, but noteworthy is the New York Times' sympathetic profile a woman unable to practice law and continue with graduate study because she was covered. Reflecting the skepticism some feel toward the recent legislative moves is an article in the Economist that urges Erdoğan to push forward with more reform.

Long charged of harboring an Islamist agenda, criticism of the party's creeping conservatism points to efforts at the municipal level to restrict the sale of alcohol and pork, an upcoming national law more tightly regulate the distribution of alcohol permits, reminders of Erdoğan's previous attempt to introduce adultery to Turkey's penal code, and allegations that Islamist officials in the Education Ministry have introduced religion into textbooks. All of these charges are worth exploring, but after almost six years in power, the hidden agenda theory is difficult to believe.

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