Turkey: Heading for a showdown
By Ian Bremmer It looks like we’re headed for another political showdown in Turkey, where the ruling Justice and Development Party, known by its Turkish acronym AKP, has taken a series of actions that will (yet again) antagonize the country’s secular establishment in general, and the military in particular. Secular critics, particularly among the business, ...
By Ian Bremmer
It looks like we’re headed for another political showdown in Turkey, where the ruling Justice and Development Party, known by its Turkish acronym AKP, has taken a series of actions that will (yet again) antagonize the country’s secular establishment in general, and the military in particular.
Secular critics, particularly among the business, media, and military elites, charge that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP means to undermine Turkey’s constitution by gradually replacing secularism with Islamism. AKP supporters insist that the party champions religious freedom but poses no threat to Turkey’s constitution or its secularist principles.
Following a landslide election victory in 2007, the AKP moved last year to lift a ban on the wearing of headscarves in Turkey’s universities. A public prosecutor charged the move violated the constitution’s secularist foundation and launched a legal challenge to shut the party down. The case moved to the Constitutional Court, where the AKP government survived by one vote.
Far from chastened, the ruling party is now moving more decisively to assert political authority over the military. On June 26, a late-night legal maneuver without support from the opposition led to passage of a law that will allow army personnel to face trial in civilian (rather than military) courts. There was no debate prior to the vote, and the main opposition party promises to ask the Constitutional Court to strike the law down.
On July 21, the government’s Higher Education Board adopted a new rule that will make it easier for graduates of religious schools to gain admission to universities, a hot-button issue for secularists who argue that these schools are incubators of religious extremists.
But the biggest news came earlier this week, when 56 people accused of plotting to overthrow the AKP-led government, including two retired four-star generals, went on trial in the next phase of the so-called Ergenekon investigation. The generals are the most senior military officers ever to stand trial in modern Turkey. Keep in mind, this is a country where the army has overthrown four governments since 1960-though on each occasion, the military has withdrawn relatively quickly and allowed for the restoration of civilian rule.
Since the Ergenekon investigation began two years ago after police discovered a box of grenades in the Istanbul home of a junior military officer, more than 140 people have been charged with membership in the “Ergenekon armed terrorist organization.” Eighty-six suspects have been on trial for the past nine months. Fifty-two more were indicted this week.
Prosecutors claim Ergenekon is a nationwide network of people dedicated to destroying the twice-elected AKP government and that it has engaged in terrorist attacks, extortion, and drug trafficking. Many AKP critics charge that Ergenekon doesn’t exist and that the ongoing probe is a political stunt meant to intimidate and discredit the secularist opposition. The ongoing arrests and prosecutions are pushing Turkey’s politics from simmer toward boil, and the risk is growing that an uneasy truce between the AKP and the military is in jeopardy — and that another legal attempt to close the party might follow.
All this at a moment when Turkish officials should be focused on stabilizing the domestic economy, undertaking much-needed economic reforms, managing relations with the IMF to ensure external financial support, and putting the country’s bid to join the European Union back on track. It’s a bad time for an all-out fight, but that’s exactly what appears to be brewing.
MUSTAFA OZER/AFP/Getty Images
Ian Bremmer is the president of Eurasia Group and GZERO Media. He is also the host of the television show GZERO World With Ian Bremmer. Twitter: @ianbremmer
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