Thursday, July 31, 2008

AKP Survives

The constitutional court's decision not to close down the AKP is being viewed with relief in most of the west. "Turkey steps back from the brink ..." said the Independent and the view was widely shared by most western media. However, the relief might be premature. The closure case was the latest round in the struggle between the AKP and the secularist forces in the country.

While in the beginning the danger to democracy was more from the secularist forces, I think now the threat is more from the majoritarian impulses of the AKP. This trend was clear after the nomination of Gul for president by the AKP even though Prime minister Erdogan had previously agreed on consensus candidates (from within the AKP) with opposition parties. That lead to a crisis - early elections and a further strengthening of the AKP. Since then the AKP has tried to pack various government ministries with its supporters, and has mainly played to its base - giving up its promises of further democratization. The bill to lift the headscarf ban was the last straw for the secularist and they tried to hit back with the suit to close the AKP. The attempt failed and the question now is whether the AKP will take its latest victory to mean that it can continue with its majoritarian policies or whether it will return to what was its initial promise of being the government of the entire country.

It would be good for both AKP and Turkey if it takes the latter course. The AKP won 47% of the votes in the last elections , a huge plurality in the context of Turkey, but that still means that there are 53% who preferred others to AKP. Given that the platform of the opposition was basically a negative "anyone but AKP," that means that a majority of the population is suspicious of the AKP. This is especially true of educated women - both of the female justices on the constitutional court (Fulya Kantarcioglu and Zehra Perktas) voted for closure - and women have been complaining of "neighborhood pressure" from local AKP supporters to dress "modestly." If the AKP continues its push for a "permanent majority," a'la Rove it will only increase polarization within the country.

The AKP was the first national party in years to beat out the ethnic Kurdish parties in the Kurdish heartland and one had hoped they would be responsive to the problems faced by Kurds in the Southeast. However, with their focus on their base the AKP has pretty much ignored the Kurds. This has been a missed opportunity that Turkey might rue if the separatists start regaining traction.

Finally, it should be noted that the vote of the constitutional court was close. It required seven of the eleven justices to agree to closure - the motion for closure had the support of six justices. If the AKP continues on its current course the next attempt to close it might succeed. At least until Gul can change the composition of the court the threat to the AKP is real. All in all the action of the constitutional court was not an ending. Hopefully, it will be a beginning.