Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Pyrhhic Victory?

I recently wrote a short entry on the elections for Democracy Digest, a project of the National Endowment for Democracy. An excerpt:
Increasingly, Turkey is polarized between those who support the AKP and those who do not. The AKP’s critics include not only the secular elite, but also liberals, Kurds and other minority groups, and others who fear the intolerance with which the party deals with difference and dissent.

However, the new parliament presents fresh opportunities for compromise and reconciliation. All parties agree that Turkey should adopt a new constitution, and given the CHP’s progressive turn, the country now has a genuine opportunity to pass a liberal democratic constitution that will respect and affirm the rights of all citizens.

Nevertheless, and despite Prime Minister Erdogan’s acceptance speech yesterday in which he vowed to seek compromise on a new constitution, it is possible, even likely, that the AKP will promote its agenda with minimal compromise and consultation (as it has in the past). Such a unilateral approach increases the likelihood of the new constitution entrenching the illiberal practices evident in the AKP’s current exercise of power, including the targeting of journalists, libel suits, increased reliance on executive and administrative orders, enhanced cabinet powers at the expense of parliament, limited minority rights, and restrictions on freedom of association and civil society.

Turkish civil society is crucial to ensuring that Erdogan seeks compromise with the other three political parties that have entered parliament. In this context, civil society will prove just as key to saving Turkish democracy as it did during the optimistic years after the EU accepted Turkey’s application for membership in 1999 and major reforms started coming down the pipe. Support for strengthening political parties and institution building has been enormously successful, but further progress is unlikely without funding and empowering civil society to hold the government and political parties in check and goad them to respond to democratic demands.

A democratic regression in Turkey will not only mark the end of a regional success story but also set back Islamist/conservative democrats in other Muslim states who view the AKP as an exemplar. As recent survey research attests, 66% of Arabs view Turkey as a democratic model.

Turkish democracy is neither a mission accomplished nor a lost cause. Authoritarian trends can be reversed and the AKP government may yet return to the more liberal politics of its inception. However, this will take serious work and dedication from the government, opposition political parties, and civil society. These elections and upcoming plans to draft a new constitution provide at once a strong impetus for reform and a new starting point.
For the full entry, click here. The blog is a good way to monitor political development throughout the world.

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