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September 27, 2012, Thursday

Swoboda’s remarks, Turkey’s changing realities

On the eve of the critical congress of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), the recent Today’s Zaman interview with Hannes Swoboda, Head of the Socialists in the European Parliament, is a must-read.

 The importance of the snapshots taken by a politician who has been keen on acting impartially and realistically before the fragile transitional process of Turkey should also be understood in the context of the annual Progress Report by the EU, due in a matter of weeks.

Here, I intend to focus on some remarks by Swoboda, in order to make a swift comparison of the ever-changing political climate of the country and the profound undercurrents which signal fresh realities.

“I think we should continue the reforms started at the beginning of [Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan’s government,” Swoboda says. “We need a new constitution, we need a way to deal with the media in a more, say, balanced way and there is of course still the Kurdish question. There is still a lot to do and hope that the government is not refraining from the reform course started at the beginning.”

Regarding the “highest priority of all,” namely the constitution-making process, Swoboda’s tone, again, indicates a higher level of caution than before:

“I think it is a doable business; it must be a doable business. If all the forces, especially the government and opposition parties come together and reach an agreement on at least the major elements of a common ground, it is workable. Many issues are on the table, of course. They are not easy issues. There should be debate not only in the relevant parliamentary commission which is tasked with dealing with the issue but also in the public about the future of Turkey…”

Calling on the Republican People’s Party (CHP) “to defend civil liberties” and the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) to keep a distance from the language of terror, Swoboda’s shots aim also at Prime Minister Erdoğan, saying in between the lines that he should visit -- after a long time of absence -- Brussels.

With the 4th ordinary congress, the AKP, which will celebrate its 10th anniversary in power in early November, is set to pass a threshold that is bound to have serious consequences in politics. Surely, Swoboda and other friends of Turkey will receive their answers from Erdoğan at the upcoming gathering about the process that has been causing anxiety on a large number of fronts (civil reforms, human rights, freedom, the Kurdish issue, various “openings”…), now also including the economy. Late September 2012, no matter which domestic or international vantage point it is being observed from, translates into stagnation. In a paradoxical manner, the more power has been concentrated in one person, the more blurred the nature of the general management of affairs has become. The anxiety is reflected -- as a sort of measured “mood” in the nation -- in the recent, comprehensive survey by MetroPoll (which, apart from this daily and Taraf, was either censored or “ignored” out of fear). It is -- it seems -- an accumulation of observations of the voter (“drop by drop”), since June this year, and is mainly about the conclusion of the affairs in stagnation, which minimizes all the expectations that had to do with a “new Turkey” as outlined by Swoboda.

Those who think that “things are getting bad” -- a very realistic, on-the-street type of question that resonates with Turks -- are now around 50 percent. Those who believe that “there should be another party that I can vote for” is 47 percent. And the study indicates that in each and every party, the search for an alternative (within the political section they vote for) is intensifying. More than a third of the AKP, half of Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and around two-thirds of CHP voters express a desire for such a search. One highlight of the survey is, of course, the responses which translate to “stay where you are as prime minister” as a message to Erdoğan, and “we would vote for you if we must choose between you and Erdoğan as president” to Gül.

The question is, then, whether or not we will see a “reset for a new leap towards full democratization” here, after the AKP congress. My humble hunch is that nobody should be overexcited. After the clear shift towards a new, nationalist-conservative de-facto alliance with the MHP, the AKP seems (despite a barrage of words) less and less interested in a new constitution. The leadership of the AKP realize, more and more clearly, that much of the consolidation of power was “done and complete” after the September 2010 referendum and the powerful election result in June 2011. Can the AKP live with the current Constitution? Yes. Can Erdoğan still pursue his primary goal, namely to be the next president of Turkey without pushing at all for a systemic change? Yes -- because the current system makes Turkey’s president even powerful than many other such systems already. In other words, we may witness a new “mountain giving birth to mouse” type of era ahead of us. It is, of course, Erdoğan, who is the key in all questions. The AKP will still be a very strong force to reckon with. But, given the new indications of the social reality, Gül emerges as the one whose choices will alter many dimensions.

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