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December 30, 2012, Sunday

Five conclusions of the past year

No doubt many of us end the year 2012 with a sense of incompletion. This has been another year that has come to an end with urgent domestic and international challenges for Turkey. Except for the economy, most things have not gone as expected, leaving a pile of issues with higher risks going into 2013.

There are five major observations and conclusions that I have found important, perhaps a set of criteria by which I will certainly base my upcoming analysis in this column.

Mismanagement: It applies to many actors, but mainly to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as well as Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and the leadership of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), too.

Since the incident of Uludere/Roboski, as a symbolic turning point, Erdoğan has exposed openly his intention to rule Turkey and his party, the Justice and Development Party (AKP), in a style he hoped would only be applauded. Consolidating power further in his person, he abandoned the good old tradition of the AKP, which was run by negotiation and collective decision making. He has ended the year with almost nobody around to stand up to him. This has led to him being often misinformed or under-briefed on vital issues. Further, he raised the stakes in his micromanagement through projects ordered by him. This style has some real impact on diplomatic dimensions as well. As a consequence, we enter 2013, with the office of the presidency and the very party itself being gradually stretched to the limits of patience.

The opposite is observed in the Republican People's Party (CHP), where Kılıçdaroğlu lets the entire membership run adrift, where he and the deputies continue to give mixed messages in a very narrow scope of politics within which the party is caged. The BDP's leadership lacks the ability to lead the Kurdish process, but simply follows the steps already being taken.

Constitution: This key issue has become a wasted opportunity almost entirely as the political actors used it as an ordinary arena to play old games of delay, cheating and confusion. Disagreements overwhelmed the few agreed points in the draft, and they were all on points that have caused the state to be dysfunctional. Ignorance, obstinacy, obsession and intolerance: all four dominated the cross-party work and helped raise deep concerns for 2013.

Kurdish issue/PKK problem: 2012 has become the year of getting mired in the swamp. Erdoğan blinked and hesitated to go further, as the dark forces of the inner state have shown “signs of life” to re-conquer the areas lost in the AKP's fight against military tutelage. Tit for tat and temptation to a “military solution only” has moved the problem into 2013. Whether the new year will be one in which Erdoğan pushes his pragmatism for talks instead of bullets, threats and vengeance is an open question. With Iraq and Syria unfolding, this one will not wait, nor tolerate flip-flopping.

Media: Its state and reputation has gotten worse, both due to severe legislation, judicial intolerance and political/financial pollution in the sector. 2012 delivered further blows to editorial independence as rigid policies of detention sharpened the polarity between journalists themselves. It has also become the year of the Turkish media being taken hostage further by government powers and their mainly flunkey, greedy proprietors. It has ended the year with a tinier quota of critique and dissent than the year before. Worse, no sign of progress is seen for its freedom and independence in 2013.

Foreign policy adrift: We have seen the power of equation in Turkey being anchored firmly in the EU accession process and its role of inspiration for Arab Awakening. As the months passed, it has reminded us all of its magic: the less enthusiastic Ankara is for EU membership the less attractive Turkey becomes to the Arab world. 2012 has therefore become the year when it became evident that there is an urgent need for the redefinition of an EU-focused foreign policy. It has also helped us understand its foreign policy capacities and limitations through the Syrian quagmire. It clarified a red line between the well chosen “soft power applier” and the ill-chosen “regime changer” choice in Turkey's strategy.

I wish you all, nevertheless, a happy, prosperous and healthy new year!

Previous articles of the columnist