Thursday, June 12, 2008

Desperation Is Not A Good Thing

In recent days, two rather extraordinary proposals have been made by AK party officials, the most notable being Speaker Köksal Toptan's idea a senate be created so as to take on some of the responsibilities of the Constitutional Court and provide a further check on judicial power. A few days later, AKP deputy Ahmet İyimaya suggested that AKP draft a proposal that would allow the parliament to suspend verdicts issued by the Court. Both attempts are widely viewed as designed only as means by which AKP might save itself, and opposition parties have squarely rejected them while the party's top brass has been wise to keep its distance. These proposals will require that the parliament amend the constitution, a move that is unlikely now as it was before the court decided the türban case. Significant is that these very reactionary measures will likely weaken support for AKP by reinforcing the image that the party is only out to save itself. The idea that AKP is selfishly trying to save itself is similar to the idea of a significant number of former AKP party supporters who have come to view the party as only concerned with securing the rights of Sunni Muslims. The party should take heed of recent polls that reflect a growing disillusionment with AKP. Gareth Jenkins' analysis of a recent poll conducted by A & G research company and that ran in Milliyet this week echoes this cause for concern:
Worryingly for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), the A & G survey reinforced the findings of other opinion polls, which had suggested that the government’s heavy-handed attempts to abolish the headscarf ban in Turkish universities (see EDM, February 11) and the subsequent case filed for the party’s closure (see EDM, April 1) have undermined its popular support. When asked how they would vote if a general election were to be held immediately, only 31.4 percent said that they would support the AKP, down from 46.6 percent in the last general election in July 2007. However, recent events appear to have shaken voters’ confidence in the AKP rather than persuaded them to switch their allegiance to another party. Of those questioned 24.7 percent either failed to reply or said that they were undecided.

. . . .

Although they have improved in recent years, opinion polls in Turkey have often proved unreliable. Nevertheless, taken as a whole, the results of the A & G survey would appear to suggest that the AKP has been damaged by its attempts to lift the headscarf ban and the subsequent court case for its closure. Privately, some AKP officials have advocated bolstering its defense in the closure case by calling an early election, in the expectation that the party would be returned to power with an increased majority. However, although few doubt that the AKP would win any early election, the results of the latest A & G survey suggest that it could turn into a Pyrrhic victory and leave the party with a considerably reduced parliamentary majority (Milliyet, May 9-10, Vatan, May 11, A & G website,
In terms of practical politics, it is wise for Erdoğan to reject these proposals and do a better job of keeping similar proposals out of public view. It also would seem necessary that the party reaffirm its commitment to work on behalf of securing greater rights and freedoms for all citizens instead of continuing to react to resistance againt the türban. The best way to protect the rights of Sunni Muslim women is to focus on bolstering the party's mandate so that it might have the political clout necessary to ecure passage of the constitution it was planning to introduce prior to the closure case.

Further, AKP should do a better job of listening to its detractors. The A & G poll suggests that there are numerous voters who have become disillusioned with AKP, but who are also not content with CHP or MHP and probably also uncomfortable with the judiciary's heavy hand. Not all AKP detractors are CHP-style staunch secularists out to deny Sunni Muslims' basic rights, but are deeply concerned with AKP political decision making and increasingly uneasy about the party's sincerity in expanding rights and freedoms to all citizens. They are skeptical that AKP sacrificed and continues to sacrifice so much political capital for the türban reform and I conjecture are made further uncomfortable with the party's seeming narrow focus on the issue and its desperate attempts to save itself from closure. Further, on a normative level, these concerns are not unjustified. Toptan' senate proposal and İyimaya's suspension idea rightfully draw criticism of AKP insomuch as constitutional reforms should be designed for the Turkish political systems' long-term benefit and not a response to a specific political exigency.

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