Monday, May 28, 2007

The Fight For Turkey's National Identity

Turkey is a changing place. Its flag is Islamic, but its people are decidedly secular. Or at least its military is. The electoral board in Turkey has said elections will be in July this year instead of November to end the political deadlock over the presidential election--secularism or theocracy? Theocracy is an exaggeration. But many Turks feel that way. The only candidate in their presidential race is a Muslim. Party politics in Turkey have failed to produce viable opposition.

The AKP (the current party, meaning Justice and Development Party) appeared to be hoping that its success in promoting economic growth and pushing down inflation would see it returned to power with a renewed and strengthened mandate. Abdullah Gul, the AK party candidate, won the largest share of the vote but failed to achieve the required quorum after opposition parties boycotted the vote and failed to put forward their own candidate. The opposition parties--mainly composed of secularist, pro-army parties--then argued that the vote was invalid and appealed to the country's constitutional court to consider ordering a re-run. So now the vote will be repeated. But the vote has been boycotted by the parliament, so the election has to be done some other way.

Gul's candidacy has worried secularists who fear an openly religious president and millions of Turks have protested against him, erupting in violence and tear gas. So now the Turks are considering re-writing their own constitution with a modern understanding of the state as its distinguishing feature. President Erdogan (the current AK president) also said that he was considering changing the constitution to enable the president to be elected directly by a popular vote. Senior members of the army threatened on Friday to intervene in politics if the AK party moved to dismantle or weaken the country's secular constitution.

The military is pro-secular, but the ruling party is for religious elements. Turkey is nearly ruled by the military. What will the military do if the AK party is elected again? And it appears there is a secret agenda for the AK party. The election will now be much earlier than previously thought. This leaves hardly any time for any secularist campaigning.

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