Opinion: All Eyes on Military Leaders After Turkish Election | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 21.07.2007
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Opinion: All Eyes on Military Leaders After Turkish Election

Some 42 million Turks are going to the polls on Sunday, but the parliament they choose may not have a very long lifespan and the military may again interrupt the democratic process, says Deutsche Welle's Baha Güngör.


Ahead of parliamentary elections in Turkey, it's not just the anticipated distribution of seats in the assembly that is driving the public's discussions. Speculations also surround the date the public will make its next trip to the poll, which is expected to be sometime this year. The newly elected national assembly and Turkey's 60th national government could go down in history as the country's shortest government in the republic's 84-year history. Turkish democracy remains so unfathomable because the polarization between the secular nationalists and the religious conservatives has driven Turkey into a dead end.

Baha Güngör

Baha Güngör

Both friends and enemies can, however, agree that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's religious-conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP) will increase its take from the 34 percent of votes it received five years ago to over 40 percent, as is predicted by polls that can be taken seriously. It is also clear that about 30 mostly "independent" Kurdish representatives will be elected to parliament. Kurdish politicians have labeled themselves "independent" to circumvent a 10-percent hurdle that has kept pro-Kurdish parties out of parliament in all their previous attempts.

Despite the high percentage of votes it will recieve, Erdogan's AKP will have fewer of the 550 parliamentary seats and will not achieve the nearly two-thirds majority of 367 mandates it currently enjoys. The AKP may still be able to govern without a coalition partner, but even that is uncertain. Depending on their strength in the election, the Nationalistic Movement Party (MHP) and the Republican People's Party (CHP), which was founded by Atatürk, may have enough power to form a coalition and push Erdogan into the opposition. The Kurds could then become the finger that tips the scales if they throw their support behind a coalition with the AKP. In any case, it is hardly expected that the Kurds will give their support to the left or the nationalistic right.

The lifespan of the coming legislative period may be the shortest in the country's history if the parliament does not succeed in electing the country's president within two months. If there is no head of state the parliament cannot dedicate itself to supporting, it cannot begin its actual legislative tasks and would be forced to dissolve itself. Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül was nominated for the post by the AKP and would have been elected if the army had not declared him persona non grata for the country's highest office. The fact that the Constitutional Court declared the parliament's vote invalid permitted a referendum on whether the public should choose the next president. None of Turkey's political parties has suggested other candidates for the job.

This is the point where all Turkish eyes turn to the military leaders. The army still represents an insurmountable hurdle for civil Turkish bodies. This is because the army sees itself as the protector of the secular republic -- based on the reforms instituted by Atatürk, the country's founder -- and because it would not accept a change of direction that would diminish Turkey's laity, the strict separation of religion and state affairs. This is exactly what Erdogan is being accused of because he is suspected of promoting the Islamization of Turkey by means of democracy. Unfortunately, it can therefore be expected that the generals will not be shy, about intervening and temporarily abandoning a pluralistic democracy, as occurred in 1960, 1971, 1980 and 1997.

The spoiling will, at any rate, come after the choosing. None of the parties can offer a panacea. The daily rising death toll from the fight with the militant Kurdish separatist organization PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party) is adding to the already enormous domestic pressure. Soldiers' burials are time and again turned into nationalistic demonstrations aimed against the AKP. Meanwhile the burials of Kurds lead to protest demonstrations aimed against the state and often lead to violent confrontations.

Considering all of these circumstances, it doesn't come as a surprise that Turkey's EU accession talks have been marginalized as far as the election campaign goes. Erdogan's faint attempts to influence European governments' Turkey policies, such as during the recent German integration summit, have not helped in the domestic confrontation.

It remains to be feared that history repeats itself and Turkey falls into another sorrowful period. A political fight for power in the 70s led to circumstances similar to a civil war, during which some 5,000 people were killed in 1980 alone. When the military staged a coup on Sept. 12, 1980, it was not just people in Turkey but Europeans as well who exhaled and at first didn't give another thought to democracy.

The long-term damage three years of military rule had on democracy and justice, however, has still not been completely remedied and the wounds have still not healed. For this reason it would be advisable for the parties and politicians to back away from extreme positions and end the political crisis by showing a democratic willingness to compromise. Otherwise there is a painful future waiting for the country that is not only a hinge between cultures and religions but also in the crosshairs of superpowers and international terrorism.

Baha Güngör is the head of DW-RADIO's Turkish service (sms)

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