Secular Club fears the Islamists in Turkey

The Turkish nation-state, distinctively based on the views of Kemal Ataturk, seems not to be at rest after the emergence of the AK Party which bagged about 65 percent of the total parliamentary seats with 363 Deputies and constitutionally qualified to form a strong single party government in Turkey. There have been many questions and doubts over its overwhelming victory particularly among the “secular club” which consists of Turkish army, media, judiciary, businessman and universities. But it is a fact that the Turkish voters are not surprised over this verdict because the same had already been predicted in pre-poll surveys. Worries are on the part of the some among the secular club and the European counterparts who have not been tolerant to the “adjustability” of Kemalism with existing ground realities.

Results of the twenty-second parliamentary elections (Nov.3) in Turkey have been described by some as a ‘civilian coup’ and a kind of social revolution against military-monitored Turkish polity. Election results have shocked many inside and out of Turkey because it seems to challenge the most conventional pattern of people-parties relationships. Media in general has labeled the majority winners as Islamists throughout the world. Some Muslims have taken the result as radical shift in Turkey towards Islam. While the Americans have said to take this verdict as the choice of people but the Europeans are quite disturbed over the rise of the Justice and Development Party of Recep Tayyip Erdogan who has been legally barred to either contest elections to hold high public office.

Some have taken verdict as a slap on Turkish military which is historically characterised as the guardian of the Kemalist nation-state. What can be mentioned at this moment, after having the background of Turkish polity and society, that the Turkish voters and parties have never enhanced the profile of “extremist” parties. They have been doing so right after the Turkish shift from mono party to multiparty system (1945-50). Whether it was the Democratic Party in 1950, or the Justice Party in 1970s or the Motherland Party in 1983 or the Welfare Party in 1996, all remained conformist to Turkish polity. It would be unpragmatic and irrational to mount doubts over one’s note on more flexibility or reformative efforts in congruence with the ‘need’ and ‘choice’ of the societal differences.

This election is neither the upsurge of the Islamists nor any deviation in the Kemalist tradition of politics. The verdict can be deciphered more in terms of circumstantial evidences, demands, grievances and expectations of the Turkish people. After the introduction of the multiparty system, Turkey has always been governed by centre-right parties which bag about 60 to 70 percent of the national votes. The center-left has maintained the proportion of 25 to 30 percent. This fact has been defined by many in different ways. Both the sides have contributed in different capacities from time to time. Turkish people seem to be habituated of trying only these parties for providing stability, dignity and prosperity. There is also a very strong tradition among the Turks to come out with new parties with some new inputs and actors. New parties are basically the result of “dual rejection” one by the people on the basis of performance and the other due to military take-over and closure of parties.

But the “over activisim” of the secularist club particularly the military in 1960, 1970-71, 1980, and 1987 to act more than being the “guardian” has not only obstructed the process of democratic evolution but also a kind of “unrest” among those Turks for whom the project of “modernity” and “Kemalism” have not been very relevant in terms of freedom of expression, economic prosperity, “internal” tolerance and their respectable space in the European fraternity. The recent election is unique in several dimensions. The Republican People’s Party which remained in opposition to the coalition governments, got 19 percent of the total votes. The AK Party which was established just a year ago, received 34 percent. Due to the 10 percent national election threshold, about sixteen parties failed to represent in the Turkish parliament. Both the numbers of independents and women Deputies have increased in comparison to earlier elections. There is one estimate that the 10 percent threshold has blocked the representation of 40 percent voters.

In reality the Turkish verdict seems to be highly polarised between left of the center and right of the center as there are only two parties possessing seats in parliament. But both are looking quite cooperative to give a stable and responsive government. Both have thrown out all the coalition partners and their leaders from parliament. 500 of the 550 Deputies representing the 57th government of the 21st parliament have failed to be re-elected. Therefore, people expect relief from new faces primarily in the economic realm. It is going to make a single party government for the first time in 15 years. Erdogan who is cherished by his voters but feared by others is not qualified at present to head the government. He is facing the case of being a leader of a party and the closure in the High Court of Appeals.

He and his some other members belong to the modernist wing of the Welfare Party who parted away from Recai Kutan and Necmettin Erbakan on the issue of “conformity”. In fact the rule of the welfare-led coalition (1996-7) has no evidence of anti-Kemalism. The main problem in Turkey is not any dangerous shift towards religion but the difficulty of bridging widening gap between the secular club (Kemalist modernists) and non-Kemalist secular democrats. The AK Party represents a coalition of moderates, conservatives and modernists and they are committed to “Turkish conformity” particularly its accession to the European Union, participation in the NATO, $16 billion IMF-backed package and secularism. Now the onus lies on both the secular club and the AK Party to what extent they adhere to constitutionalism.

Arshi Khan is a senior lecturer, Centre for Federal Studies, Hamdard Universities, New Delhi, India.