The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), promising to go ahead with further democratization steps and a new constitution in last year's June 12 national elections, got half of the votes, but the party seems to be rapidly losing ground among opinion makers, who now claim the governing AK party has got into authoritarian tendencies.
Mehmet Altan from the faculty of economics at İstanbul University interprets the recent discussions, started by PM Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, about abortion and the building of a mosque on one of the hills overlooking the Bosphorus in İstanbul as a manifestation of his authoritarian tendencies. Speaking to Today's Zaman, Altan said, “These discussions clearly demonstrate that the government wants to bring about a transition in which the country will switch from secular Kemalism to religious Kemalism.”
Koray Çalışkan, a political scientist at Boğaziçi University agrees. Referring to the recent dismissal of a journalist because he had written an article criticizing the government about the Uludere incident, Çalışkan remarked, “In a not too distant future, any of us may find ourselves one day dismissed because of the opinions we may express,” also adding that this would mean the AK Party would acquire the characteristics of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) of the 1930s in which the CHP, being the only party at the time, was not an entirely separate entity from the state.
The AK Party, which was celebrated by the electorate as a party that supported democratization and in favor of placing the individual freedoms before the state interest, got votes from a broad cross-section of Turkish society, but seems to have adopted a reverse course recently.
The government’s position on the unfortunate Uludere incident, in which 34 Turkish citizens of Kurdish origin were mistakenly bombed to death by Turkish jets on Iraqi soil near Turkey’s border, is a typical example of such an attitude analysts say.
Because the government, instead of finding out those responsible for the faulty decision to attack, and expressing sincere regret, gives the impression of trying to cover up what really happened at Uludere.
Çalışkan sees the Uludere incident as the biggest crisis for the AK party. Criticizing the government for its attitude regarding the incident he noted, “Erdoğan should have apologized as he did for Dersim. It’s he who is politically responsible.”
According to Çalışkan, this incident has had a major role in how the AK Party is perceived by the public. “The image the AK party has had in recent years of being a victim against the establishment in Turkey is now totally shattered,” Çalışkan added, implying that the AK Party has started to act more like a state-party whose priority is to defend the state. This is not how a government would handle the matter in a democratic country, Akın Özçer, a former diplomat and a columnist at the Taraf daily, has stated, commenting on the Uludere incident. “The fact that we are still in the dark about who is responsible in the Uludere attack is a clear indication that the process has not been properly managed,” he told Today’s Zaman.
Most of the urgent bills that the country needs to adopt, like a comprehensive overhaul of the justice system, have been pushed onto the backburner, while the intense polarization of Parliament makes it difficult for the government to push for democratic reforms in Parliament’s agenda.
During the campaign period leading up to the June 12, 2011 national elections, the AK Party banked on its impressive economic performance during the eight-and-half-years of its rule and pitched a slogan of “stability” to convince voters amid economic turmoil in the region. It worked like a charm as one in every two voters was skeptical of the opposition parties’ programs and voted for the AK Party, despite question marks about its ability.
The AK Party was praised when it announced its most important project, the preparation of a new, civilian constitution to replace the current military-era one. The commission set up to do so is moving very slowly, however. Constitutional work is under way with the establishment of the Constitutional Reconciliation Commission in Parliament, with representatives from all four parties and headed by the parliament speaker. Many suspect, however, that the internal bylaws adopted by the commission make it difficult to reach a compromise because they require an absolute consensus, which is not easy to get considering the wide divergence of opinions on some thorny issues. What is more, the arithmetic of the new Parliament made it impossible for the AK Party to it alone in writing the new constitution.
Ahmet Turan Alkan, a political analyst and a columnist at the Zaman daily, doesn’t hide the fact that he is not hopeful about a new constitution. “Discussions regarding a new constitution have fallen behind discussions about the presidential system. It looks as if the government just wants to make use of it politically,” he has commented to Today’s Zaman.
The government is also backing away from making good on its promise of “a Turkey without gangs and juntas,” included in its election manifesto. The AK Party signaled that it may cut back on its political support behind the landmark Ergenekon, Sledgehammer and other legal cases, where clandestine gangs long-nestled inside the Turkish establishment are being tried. The AK Party’s armor was dealt a blow, however, when it pushed to change the match-fixing law Parliament adopted just eight months ago, reducing sentences for the organized groups and people who were involved in match-fixing scandals. Since the revision would impact the ongoing legal case, this was interpreted as a backing away from dismantling gangs who have long acted with impunity in sporting clubs.
In an ongoing investigation into the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) -- an illegal group allegedly related to the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), when the prosecutors summoned National Intelligence Organization (MİT) Undersecretary Hakan Fidan to testify, the government rushed a bill through Parliament to exclude him from the probe.
The AK Party failed to introduce changes to the Law on Political Parties, campaign finance laws and election law. It also halted the progress on EU-oriented reforms. Even most of the required laws to harmonize Turkish legislation with the constitutional reform package, which made changes to 26 Articles in the Constitution in 2010, has not been submitted to Parliament yet.
The government has failed to bring some important bills to life. These bills include the establishment of an anti-discrimination council; a law on state aid; a law on the penitentiary facilities’ external security service; a law on the organization of the Ministry of Justice; a law on legal procedures, which seeks to change the expert system in courts; an ombudsman bill; a law on the protection of personal information; a law on state secrets; a law on restructuring the gendarmerie; a law on the military criminal code and military criminal procedures; a bill on the Turkish human rights council; a law on the establishment of a commission to oversee security forces; a law on higher education institutions; and a law on presidential elections. “We are almost cut off from the EU process,” Altan remarked, noting that the harmonization laws that government has recently passed are more in harmony with the status quo in Turkey than the EU.
The government keeps delaying the establishment of regional appellate courts to reduce the backlog of cases in the judicial system. Last but not least is the concern about media freedom in Turkey and possible changes to counterterrorism laws to give breathing room to journalists. The government had submitted the amendments to Parliament but media watchdog groups say they fail to bring any resolution to media freedom woes in Turkey and make it even worse in some cases.
But there is an area on which all agree that the AK Party has put in a good performance: the economy. The Turkish economy, being the 17th biggest economy in the world, seems to have got through the global economic crisis relatively lightly. “Particularly in the area of public finance I find the government successful,” Altan said. But even in that area, Altan, who concedes that the Turkish economy has grown considerably in recent years, feels, all the same, the need to be cautious. It’s because Turkey owes this growth to hot money inflows for which it pays higher than average interest. “Should the stability be spoiled, the glaring economic success may be reversed,” he cautioned.