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September 05, 2008, Friday

Signs of a dangerous bipolarity in politics

As I hopefully will have reached Yerevan early this morning, not only to watch football, but to witness an unprecedented visit -- the first in history -- by a Turkish president, my initial intention was to write about glimpses of my earlier personal encounters with this mysterious, sad city and its sorrowful and deeply proud people, to comment about the true meaning of rapprochement between those who are truly Anatolians -- Armenians and Turks -- in that order.

I meant to express a wish, however unrealistic it may be, that President Abdullah Gül might pass beyond the threshold of denial and pray at the "Genocide Monument," mourning the tragic fate of Ottoman Armenians, who perished in the folly of war some 90 years ago.

Alas, the shaky agenda of Turkey never leaves you alone. Wherever you go, part of your mind is always kept occupied with the notion of "what's next?" And the puzzle of politics never leads to closure but only becomes more intriguing.

The main questions before me and my readers, as I understand it, is what to expect in the coming months of politics and where we stand in the ongoing, seemingly endless battle for power in "deep Ankara."

In a way, we have seen cards being reshuffled recently and that redistribution has begun. I am referring to some major turning points and minor events. With the Justice and Development Party (AKP) "having received a severe warning" -- to use an expression by a top court judge -- Turkey is to continue with a new top command, which made its stand clear in recent days on how much more deeply involved in politics the military will be. The picture is reminiscent of an older one depicting an arduous, uphill battle between the elected and the appointed.

The annual ceremony of the top command handovers told us the same story: filled with lengthy robot talk, it was, as some pro-military columnists already wrote, made "obvious even for those with differing levels of understanding" (referring to domestic and foreign observers who question the current military-civilian relations in Turkey) that issues linked with "sine qua non" of the republic will be kept under strict scrutiny by the military and that most of the matters related to the EU reform process were seen as unacceptable by those who are keen on the "unitary" nature of Turkey. In short, the top command says between the lines that the AKP should "forget" a new, liberal constitution.

There are symptoms of trouble already. I mentioned in an earlier article an apparent clash at the decision making level in Cyprus, where Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC) President Mehmet Ali Talat was sidelined by the Turkish military over a temporary opening of the border gate for Greek Cypriot worshipers, a minor scandal that could not have happened without the knowledge of İlker Başbuğ.

The other incident was a "political statement" by the top command: As reported extensively, two generals under arrest in the Ergenekon case were visited in prison by a three-star general two days ago in Kandıra. The fact that the visit was done under the orders of the top command and in the name of the chief of general staff is undoubtedly an intervention in the judicial process and likely to have significant consequences in the process of the criminal case.

Add to this a fresh survey on the "state of politics" in Turkey. Today's Zaman reported yesterday on the findings of a Metropoll survey, which somehow seems to confirm what I have been hearing from other "pulse-takers." Let's look at part of yesterday's story: "Asked who they would vote for if there was an election today, 50.9 percent of respondents said they would vote for the AK Party. The figure demonstrated the ruling party's considerable increase in popularity in less than a month, as around 42 percent of those polled had said in early August they would vote for the AK Party if parliamentary elections were to be held the day of the poll. The survey revealed that the CHP and the MHP would remain below the election threshold should general elections be held on the poll date. Only 9.5 percent of respondents said they would vote for the CHP; 6.6 percent said they would favor the MHP and 2.6 percent said they would vote for the Democratic Society Party (DTP)."

Metropoll is a serious opinion investigator. And what it tells us in this crucial segment is of serious concern. It tells us that a) regardless of the "vacuum" of political pledges, the AKP is simply rising; b) after distributing the undecided, the AKP now has around 60 percent of the vote; and c) the opposition is sliding severely, although two parties may pass the 10 percent threshold. The result, therefore, in the upcoming national elections would have to be the AKP dominating more than 90 percent of the municipalities.

With the lack of opposition, the center of antagonism may shift even more to the already tense area between the military and the AKP. Considering the apparent "change of route" of top command, together with the picture above taken by Metropoll, this all comes inevitably as a message for extreme "caution" -- if not alarm -- for Turkey.

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