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January 01, 2013, Tuesday

My 2013 wish and fear list

Columnists are not fortune-tellers.

Whatever my colleagues and I are predicting these days about the new year is certainly based on experience and a proper analysis of dominant trends. But none of us should claim to be sure about what will happen in Turkey in 2013. Still, what would life be without hopes, expectations and anxieties? That's why I will try again to list my hopes and my fears for the coming year.

I looked at my previous wish and fear list that was published on Jan. 1, 2012, and I have to admit that the outcome at the end of the year was much closer to my fears than to my hopes. The process of preparing a new constitution is going nowhere, a solution to the Kurdish problem is not in sight, there are still too many journalists in prison, and the judiciary remains a battlefield between old and new elites. Conclusion: My hopes were set way too high, but my ability to predict undesirable developments is not that bad.

So let me again tell you what I think should happen in 2013 and what I am afraid will happen.

New constitution: I hope the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) comes to the conclusion that the only way out of the current deadlock is a historic compromise with the Republican People's Party (CHP), the main opposition party. Together these two parties represent the new and the old elites. They should both be willing and able to introduce their main demands in a brand new constitution and come to an understanding on the points that separate them. But I am afraid that the ruling party, dominated by a prime minister with his eye on the presidency and the nationalist votes he thinks he needs to get there, will try to tempt the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) into supporting a half-baked, partly amended version of the present one.

Kurdish problem: I hope the government continues with the introduction of reforms that openly deal with some of the main Kurdish nationalist demands like education in the mother tongue. That would make it easier to successfully finalize a new round of negotiations between the Turkish state and its main Kurdish interlocutors on a comprehensive end to all violence. Such a positive outcome will only happen when the two sides manage to overcome the resistance from spoilers in both camps that have no interest in a solution.

But, I am afraid that the government, again not to lose the nationalist vote, will opt for an obscure mix of some ill-presented reforms and continued, very visible, repression. That will make it easy for the opponents of a deal to sabotage the talks and convince the nationalist hard-liners in both camps that the use of force is inevitable.

Freedom of the press: I hope the government will soon accept the new package of legal reforms at hand that eliminates or changes some crucial articles in the Anti-Terror Law and the Turkish Penal Code. The result would be the release of hundreds of Kurdish activists and journalists from prison because the grounds for their arrest will be annulled. These reforms, which are long overdue, would also bring an end to one of the main flaws in the Turkish legal system: long pre-trial detention periods. Only these two effects combined will convince AK Party critics in Turkey and abroad that the ruling party is seriously interested in further democratization.

But I am afraid that the fear of a nationalist backlash will lead the Cabinet into watering down the proposals from the justice minister. As a consequence, most of the 50 journalists still in prison will stay there, and Turkey will remain the bête noire of the international lobby for full press freedom.

The positive thing about this list is that, realistically speaking, both my hopes and my fears could turn out to be justified. This government has shown in the past that it is capable of both groundbreaking reforms and old style “business as usual” politics -- sometimes confusingly, almost at the same time and on the same issue. The bad thing is that since the 2011 elections, the balance has tilted towards policies that are intended not to rock the boat full of Turkish nationalist voters. The upcoming 2014 elections and the ambitions of the prime minister would suggest that this trend will continue in 2013. At the end of this year my fears might again have been more realistic than my hopes.

In my next column I will focus on what to expect from Turkey-EU relations in 2013. Will we see a serious restart of the stalled negotiations, as some predict, or will we have to wait for that until after the German elections this September?  

Previous articles of the columnist