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JOOST LAGENDIJK

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JOOST LAGENDIJK
August 02, 2011, Tuesday

Which scenario will it be?

A couple of days ago someone sent me a link to a document produced by New York University's Center for Global Affairs (CGA). The paper outlines three different scenarios for Turkey in 2020 and is part of the CGA Scenario Initiative that already covered Iraq, Iran, China and Russia.

The Turkey 2020 scenario is based on the CGA expertise with describing plausible potential outcomes of certain developments, the coordinating efforts of Joshua W. Walker, one of the most prominent US experts on Turkey and the input from a workshop held in May 2010 in which several Turkey watchers with totally opposing views participated.

The result is a fascinating read because it forces the reader to evaluate the reasoning behind the three scenarios that are described in the CGA report.

One option, called “Illiberal Islamism,” is a Turkey in 2020 where the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) will have managed to consolidate its power, capitalizing on the weakness of the secularist opposition, responding to the demands of the conservative urban lower-middle class and building an alliance with the Islamist Felicity Party (SP). Sunni Islam will have become the most powerful force in domestic and foreign policy, to the exclusion of minority views.

The second scenario, “Illiberal Secularism,” in a way mirrors the first one. In this projection, in the coming years the AK Party will face socioeconomic challenges, increasing resistance to its Islamist tendencies and a deteriorating security situation. This creates an opportunity for the Republican People's Party (CHP) to come to power, with the support of the military and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). The new coalition will espouse a strong, secure and secular Turkey. In pursuit of these goals, however, it tends toward authoritarianism.

Although these two scenarios are interesting to read, I personally think it is neither very likely nor desirable that either of them will come true. That is why I will only focus on the details of the third scenario, “Political Pluralism.”

According to the authors of this political forecast, the AK Party's influence peaked this year, but from next year onwards the challenges to its hegemonic position will grow, in part as a consequence of its own failures to meet the expectations of the electorate, in part due to its constitutional overreach and resurgence in the opposition. Voters' patience will grow thin with the underperformance of the government in creating enough jobs. At the same time, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's efforts to introduce a presidential system, continued restrictions on the media and a distinctly “Islamic” foreign policy will cause many moderate voters and politicians to distance themselves from the ruling party. Other options have become more attractive because between 2012 and 2015 the CHP will have developed an attractive social democratic agenda and the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) will have managed to transform itself into a broad-based alternative for disappointed Kurdish AK Party voters and center-leftists. The elections in 2015 will produce a hung Parliament in which the AK Party is still the biggest party but has no outright majority. The resulting political stalemate ends in 2017 with a split in the AK Party and early elections.

Here the scenario turns into political science fiction as Ali Babacan steps forward to distance himself from Erdoğan, accusing him of stalling the EU accession project by neglecting the Cyprus question. After the 2017 elections, the CHP and AK Party will have more or less the same number of seats in Parliament and have to compromise to win support from the BDP. Consequently, ideologically charged rhetoric gives way to more moderate policy-oriented discussions. Reformist AK Party politicians take the party back to a program of pro-EU policies and market liberalization. A new generation of CHP leaders will have solidified the party's new image as a social democratic party that emphasizes the democratic aspects of Kemalism over its polarizing ideological aspects. At the end of this most favorable scenario for Turkey, the country's political landscape in 2020 will be dramatically different than in 2011. Polarizing tendencies will have given way to moderate, pluralistic politics in which a robust, diverse civil society plays a crucial role.

I know, it's easy to make fun of these kinds of thought provoking intellectual exercises. At the same time, the last scenario in particular contains many elements that we can witness in today's debates, be they on the dangerous overdose of confidence in the government's handling of the Cyprus and EU dossier, the aggressive tone in politics or the inability to solve the Kurdish issue. My advice: Read the scenarios (www.scps.nyu.edu/cga) and see what the consequences might be.

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