Friday, March 21, 2008

The Ergenekon Probe widens

From the Turkish Daily News:

The police investigation that began with the seizure of several hand grenades in a shanty house in Istanbul was broadened to include more public figures yesterday, including daily Cumhuriyet's lead columnist İlhan Selçuk, Workers' Party (İP) leader Doğu Perinçek and former Istanbul University Rector Professor Kemal Alemdaroğlu.

This is getting into dangerous territory. The police have detained some very well known members of the secularist left for involvement in the Ergenekon investigation. This was an investigation into a plot to assassinate various members of the government, and intelligentsia (Orhan Pamuk's name keeps getting mentioned in the news reports) and the creation of conditions conducive to the overthrow of the government. Previously people detained included a retired general academics and lawyers. The latest arrests up the ante considerably. Ilhan Selcuk is a very big name among the Kemalists. Dogu Perincek is a old time Maoist communist whose Workers Party is one of the few that survived the 70's. The secularists are already portraying these detentions as a plot by the government against the Kemalist. This has the potential to get very bad very quickly.


Ilhan Selcuk has been released and told not to leave the country. The prohibition on an octagenarian leaving the country has been greeted with some disgust in the media. Erdogan made a plea for unity and the rule of law.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Propaganda pays

I remember being floored by the fact that the New Yorker had actually published this piece by Jeffrey Goldberg back in 2002. But then, the elite media was hungering for some action. There was the adulatory interview of Kenneth Pollack by Terri Gross later that year and "liberal" journalists were falling over one another in their rush to prove their "toughness." But that Jeffrey Goldberg article stayed with me as an example of truly slimy propaganda. Goldberg has since gone on to a highly paid position at the Atlantic. Spencer Ackerman at the Washington Independent looks at Goldberg's mendacity and how it has benefited him here and here. I found the article via Jonathan Schwarz at A Tiny Revolution who also points to this quote from a debate at Slate in October 2002:

There is not sufficient space...for me to refute some of the arguments made in Slate over the past week against intervention, arguments made, I have noticed, by people with limited experience in the Middle East (Their lack of experience causes them to reach the naive conclusion that an invasion of Iraq will cause America to be loathed in the Middle East, rather than respected)...

The administration is planning today to launch what many people would undoubtedly call a short-sighted and inexcusable act of aggression. In five years, however, I believe that the coming invasion of Iraq will be remembered as an act of profound morality. [emphasis Jonathan's]

The fact that these people are not only still able to show their face but are actually profiting from their actions is a depressing thing. One can only hope that somewhere in the journalist ranks there are more Ackermans who will keep trying to expose these truly disgusting people.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Sezer's revenge

In the last days of his presidency the militantly secularist Necdet Sezer appointed Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya as the chief public prosecutor. Sezer had fought against the efforts of the AKP to remove some of what it considered to be anti-religious rules - the headscarf ban in universities and government offices being the most prominent. (The AKP had never tested the headscarf ban given that Sezer was clearly going to veto any such effort). After the AKP had put its own Abdullah Gul in the presidential palace it moved to remove the headscarf ban from universities. Teaming up with the right wing MHP it had the numbers needed to amend the constitution to get rid of the headscarf ban at universities. In this action they have had the support of most of the Turkish people with the opposition coming from the secularist old guard. Now, it seems the old guard has hit back. Yalcinkaya in his role as the chief prosecutor has initiated a case against the AKP demanding that it be closed down because of its "anti-secular activities." He has also demanded that leaders of the AKP including the prime minister and the president be banned from holding public office for five years. The stage is now set for a real constitutional crisis.

Some of the arguments and counter-arguments are amusing. One of the arguments for the closure is that the mayor's office of Istanbul prevented the display of billboards containing the bikini clad picture of a Czech supermodel. One of the arguments being used against Yalcinkaya is that under Turkish law you are not allowed to insult the President. Trying to remove the president from office can definitely be construed as an insult. Based on which AKP supporters are asking for the removal of Yalcinkaya for not following the law!

Hold onto your hats. This looks to become interesting. One sign that things are a bit different from the past is that Yalcinkaya waited to make his announcement until after the markets closed. There was a time when this would have been considered frivolous. The full text of the indictment (in Turkish) can be found here. If I have some time later I will try and post some excerpts in English. As might be expected the action has aroused the ire of much of the intelligentsia. I have had a hard time finding support for the prosecutors actions. Even the head of the staunchly secularist opposition Republican Peoples Party has kept uncharacteristically silent.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Elections in Pakistan

This was posted over at the Newshoggers. But just in case my two readers didn't see it.

The elections were reasonably free and fair as I had assumed they would be. I never quite understood the somewhat hysterical insistence by normally well informed individuals like Ahmad Rashid that there would be "massive" vote rigging. The reason the military had allowed Benazir and Nawaz Sharif back into the country was because they needed a partnership with the feudals. As I have written earlier there are only two real power centers in Pakistan, the military and the feudals (some include the bureaucracy as a third power center - I don't). The military was clearly unable to meet the challenges posed by the jihadis without the support of the feudals. Their support of The War Against Terror (tm) had resulted in their involvement with disappearances of individuals - tactics that had previously mainly been associated with civilian governments in Pakistan - which had led to genuine opposition from civil society in the form of the lawyers movement. By allowing the exiled politicians back into the country the military was suing for peace. The elections were the mechanism by which the feudals were going to elect the team which would partner with the army. I t would have been counter-productive from the military's standpoint if they had then proceeded to rig the elections. The results of the elections have been reasonably satisfactory for the military. As can be seen from the graphical representation of the election results, outside of the PML-Q the PPP has emerged as the only truly national parties with significant representations from all four provinces.

And the PPP is not too anxious to bring back a judiciary which seemed on the way to voiding the ordinance that Musharraf had signed dropping the corruption cases against the late and current leaders of the PPP. Which means the feudals and the military are united against the lawyers' movement. The PML-N, because of Nawaz Sharif's personal antagonism towards Musharraf, might have taken some anti-military stance. But despite the significant presence of PML-N in the National Assembly it has become a provincial party - albeit from the most significant province. Almost all the National Assembly seats for PML-N are from Punjab. In the provincial assemblies I couldn't find a trace of PML-N in the Sindh and Balochistan provinces and only a few seats in the Frontier province. Finally, while I do not equate the military with Musharraf. If the military as an institution needed to sacrifice Musharraf they would not hesitate - though based on tradition they would try and ease him out in the most graceful manner possible. However, even if the PPP had wanted to impeach Musharraf it is difficult to see how they could garner the two thirds votes needed to do that. So, all indications are that Musharraf will remain - at least for now.

The really bad news about the elections was the low level of voter participation. Compared to the rather tumultuous election campaigns of the past the current season was not exceptionally violent. The lack of enthusiasm of the people of Pakistan for their rulers - both civilian and military - does not bode well for the future. As long as people believe they have a voice they do not turn to violence. It is only when they see avenues of expression blocked that they turn to more desperate measures. The coming years are not going to be economically comfortable as a global recession will have a severe impact on the poorer countries of the world. This will be a time of maximum opportunity for strife. If the people feel that the government feels their pain they will be less likely to take matters into their own hands. The election turnout seems to suggest that their faith in the processes of government is limited.

But there are also several positive messages from the elections. The first is of course the rout of the religious parties - the MMA. They were swept from power in both Balochistan and the Frontier. And the rout was a lot worse than the loss of seats. If you look at the detailed election results you will find that not only did they lose - they didn't even come in second! Furthermore, they lost often to people they had previously won against. The return to power of the ANP canonly be viewed as positive both from a Pakistani point of view and from a US/NATO point of view. The MMA had been providing cover for the Taliban in Afghanistan. The ANP has a secular and progressive history. They will have no love for the Taliban. As Pashtoon nationalists they will also be in a good position to collaborate with the pashtun majority in Afghanistan. The PPP which holds the second largest number of seats in the Frontier Assembly has promised the ANP their cooperation and I think they will keep to their word. The PPP has bigger fish to fry elsewhere.

The second is the election of independents. According to this wikepedia entry, 3 independents were elected in the 2002 elections to the National Assembly. This year there are 28 independents elected to the National Assembly. Even excluding the ones in the Frontier areas where most candidates did not have a party affiliation that is still a healthy increase. I have no idea about the character of these candidates. However, just the fact that they were able to successfully mount independent runs says something good about the vitality of electoral politics.

Finally, in the National Assembly there are seats reserved for women. However, this time there were quite a few (by Pakistan standards) women contesting general seats - 64 for the National Assembly and 116 for the provincial assemblies. Most of them lost but there were still quite a few that won. That is definitely a positive sign. Change in Pakistan will depend to a great extent on the participation of women in the political process. One of the good things that has happened under Musharraf is the rise of civil society organizations in which women play a substantial role. More participation of women in politics can only be a good thing.

In the final analysis I am cautiously optimistic. Superficially the election results are a return to the status-quo ante 2002. However much has happened in the last six years to inform the centers of power. Hopefully they will have learned something and Pakistan will not return to the downward spiral of those years.