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December 25, 2012, Tuesday

In politics for public interest, a year of disappointment

This year comes to an end having left us with a bitter taste -- a year as precious as it was wasted.

Those who argue against this observation will not hesitate to draw our attention to Turkey’s economic performance, but will fall short of convincing us because Turkey has displayed a growing dissatisfaction and concern on issues in politics, which has persisted in remaining out of sync with its relative economic success.

It has to do with where the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has repositioned itself during the past 12 months. What Lale Kemal in a recent article in this paper defines as the country’s unclear direction may to a large extent depend on İhsan Dağı’s observation, that the AKP as a hybrid of neo-Islamists, nationalists and democrats, has been falling deeper into a “crisis of opposition” -- that it has lost almost entirely its adversary in Kemalist tutelage.

I had described it in a parallel manner, but somewhat slightly differently: loss of oppositional spirit while in power and preference of conformism with the old instruments of power. I agree with Dağı that the year 2012 will definitely be remembered as the AKP swaying between a security-focused “nationalism-statism” and populism -- often merging both.

The end of the year, therefore, unsurprisingly, is ending with a sense of “end of the road traveled.” It has to do with the heart of the matter or, to put it more bluntly, “the mother of all challenges”: whether or not the people of Turkey will be delivered a new, democratic constitution.

As we approach the deadline (Dec. 31) of the commission, which has consisted of the four parties represented in Parliament, alarm bells reached their highest decibels. Two members of the commission -- from the Republican Peoples Party (CHP), Rıza Türmen and Atilla Kart, and Ayla Akat Ata, from the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), voiced similar warnings, saying that the AKP has totally paralyzed their work with the proposal on a new presidential system.

Anyway, not much has been achieved with it so far. Members have agreed -- on the chapters regarding rights and freedoms -- to only around 30 percent of the content. On 70 other articles, one can only see disagreements and dissent. But the chapter now stuck on “executive powers” is a complex one: All the elements are linked to each other, thus demanding a reasonable consensus. None exists.

Sure, none of the parties will want to be the one that leaves the table, but nobody has any idea what is next, once the deadline has passed. This is enough to declare 2012 a year of waste in terms of politics in the general public interest.

The lack of focus in the CHP or BDP is certainly to blame for the deadlock. The CHP, despite the means and opportunities present before it, has been staying away from a consistent pro-freedom agenda despite the fine human resources existent in the party for a modern constitution. Its internal fights have only served the Kemalist-conservative flanks -- though they are in a weaker position -- to block a productive drive. The BDP has, for its part, been prisoner of its narrow scope and unpreparedness for bigger issues.

But the main blame falls on the AKP, which due to the immense domination of its leader, has fallen into disarray over the vital issue. In the given situation, what now remains is a path that only promises further polarization and a clear risk of keeping the coup Constitution as a foolish compromise.

Conflicting voices that come from the AKP only add to the bitter sense. Bekir Bozdağ, a deputy prime minister, tried to water down the AKP proposal on the presidential system, by saying, “It can be added as a proposal and be withdrawn if necessary,” while Mustafa Şentop, another member of the commission from the AKP, suggested that the articles “in dispute” can be presented for a referendum. This view has been repeated recently (on TV 24) in more clear terms by Numan Kurtulmuş, the AKP’s new popular figure, who said, “We are of course determined to go to a referendum, if we cannot get any agreement [within the commission].”

This is, most probably, what will happen. If so, 2013 is already to be defined as the year of huge tension, severe polarity, rage, broken dreams, loss of hope and deep division -- not only on the social level but within the ruling power as well. God help Turkey.

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