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July 13, 2012, Friday

AKP: No longer a democratizing force

During the most recent special court legislation discussions, one point that was consistently underlined by both the Justice and Development Party (AKP) politicians and their staunch supporters in the media was that such courts were no longer needed since Turkey has been normalized.

When we also look at the main concerns of the AKP politicians, we see that their focus is either on daily issues or their long-term individual career plans. This includes the pro-AKP media such as Sabah, Yeni Şafak and the Star daily. Unlike in their past record, these media outlets are no longer pressuring the government for further democratization. It is to the contrary: They show all signs of being content with the status quo and ask all of us to trust Mr. Erdoğan and leave the details to him. It seems that not only in terms of electoral support which culminated in 50 percent in last year’s general elections but in terms of its vision of democratization and spirit of reform, the party has already reached its pinnacle, showing all signs of wear and tear.

As I wrote here several months ago, the AKP has been using the preparation of the new constitution as a pretext to freeze the process of democratization in the country. Without a new constitution, there are many things that can be done to democratize the country. The EU progress reports are full of homework for Turkey. Previously, the politicians would tell us that we “do not know what they know,” implying that if they make certain changes, the military, deep state, oligarchy, etc. could stage a coup or destabilize the country. Now we must ask them what is stopping them from making further reforms. It is crystal clear that the gendarmerie was part of the deep state and was used for Ergenekon’s deep-state operations, especially in the Christian missionary slaughter case, the Hrant Dink assassination, etc. In democratic countries where there is a gendarmerie, it is fully part of the interior ministry and has nothing do with the military. In Turkey, the complete opposite is true. The gendarmerie is part of the Interior Ministry only on paper and it is a de facto part of the military. Its commanders are military generals. Civilian politicians cannot question the gendarmerie and it is like an enigma to them. The AKP has not done anything to normalize the gendarmerie, bar the generals who would not be able to stop the imprisonment of their colleagues, showing the generals’ current political impotency.

There are deep and justified suspicions that the deep state has connections inside the special forces of the military and the MİT (National Intelligence Organization). But the AKP has not helped the judiciary to scrutinize these institutions. In the referendum two years ago, we voted for an ombudsman that would question every government institution and action from a human rights perspective. But the AKP, without consulting the public, exempted the military from the Ombudsman’s scrutiny when it made the Ombudsman law, and as yet there are no proposals to add such oversight in the new constitution. On another front, the YÖK (Higher Education Board) is an embodiment of Kemalist monolithic thinking and an inhibitor of free thought in academia. When the party came to power, democratizing the YÖK was at the top of the AKP’s agenda but since it has now appointed its own people to the board, the AKP has not changed the structure of the YÖK, which is a legacy of the 1980 coup. The YÖK is actually a very good case showing the limits of the AKP’s democratization: Until the party controls a government institution, the institution is “anti-democratic” according to the AKP, but if the party captures it, the party will not make the necessary reforms. Freedom of speech and press freedoms are also in a bad shape in the country, despite the recent progress. There are several things that the AKP could easily do but which it does not care about. The Alevi house of worship (Cemevi) is still not recognized as a place of worship by the state and the Halki Seminary is still closed. Instead of working on these reforms, we now learn that the Treasury has been trying to confiscate the many-centuries-old Assyrian Mor Gabriel Monastery’s land. So far none of the AKP politicians have said that it is simply unacceptable to be cruel to the monastery.

I am not saying that solving these problems is extremely simple and the AKP must do it overnight. What worries me is that none of these issues seem to be on the agenda of AKP politicians. What they and their media keep discussing is switching to a presidential system, what will happen to the AKP after 2014 and so on. When they have spare time after endlessly talking about these issues, they assault Taraf and its editor-in-chief, Ahmet Altan, as if they present a clear and present danger to Turkish democracy.

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