Ten percent electoral thresh hold and Turkeys Kurdish Problem
Turkey's Kurdish problem is as old as the creation of the secular republic from the ashes of the Ottoman empire in 1922 by Kemal Ataturk, one of the greatest leaders of all times .The scheming Brits kept out the north Iraq Kurdistan out of Turkey, thus leaving a unhealed wound . Islamist Erdogan has done his worst to destroy te republic and the nation .Period.
Ten percent threshold was incorporated in 1981, before 2002 to keep Kurds out as a legitimate political party So in 2002 Nov elections it gave AKP a 2/3rd majority with 34% votes .In this year's elections Kurds have crossed the 10% threshold .So Turkey faces the Kurdish problem as a political ,constitutional and even existential problem .
Below is an old article on how the attempt to keep out Kurds as a political formation led to AKP getting a massive majority in 2002 .It also covers the ensuing tussle between AKP and the Pashas /military. Never rule out the Pashas in any Muslim country.
I shall also circulate an old article on the Kurdish leader Ocalan , now in jail on a Marmara sea island near Istanbul.
FOUNDATION FOR INDO-TURKIC STUDIES
Tel/Fax ; 0040216374602 Amb (Rtd) K Gajendra Singh
Emails; Gajendrak@hotmail.com Flat No 5, 3rd Floor
KGSingh@Yahoo.com 9, Sos Cotroceni,
Web site. Bucharest (Romania ).
www.tarafits.com 10 May , 2003
The simmering tensions in Turkish polity 10 May , 2003
K Gajendra Singh http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/EE10Ak01.html
Tensions building up between Turkey's secular elite, led by its powerful armed forces, and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has Islamic roots, ever since the latter's electoral triumph last November, have up to now remained under check. This was because of Turkey's preoccupation with more important matters, such as an admission date into the Europe Union, a United Nations-led attempt to resolve the Cyprus problem and the United States efforts to persuade Turkey to join in the war against Iraq.
With these issues now either resolved or in limbo, the first battle lines between the two sides were drawn on April 23 when President Ahmet Sezer, a former head of the Constitutional Court, and the top military brass led by General Hilmi Ozkok, refused to attend a reception at parliament house hosted by its speaker, Bulent Arinc of the AKP, to mark National Sovereignty and Children's Day, as hostess Munnever Arinc planned to wear a Muslim head scarf. The opposition, left of the center People's Republican Party (RPP), also boycotted the reception. A last-minute announcement that Mrs Arinc would not attend the reception came too late.
Since the establishment of the secular republic in 1923, Ottoman and Islamic dresses have been forbidden in public places. Many an Islamist women has lost her job or place in university, and some women their seats in parliament, for defying this regulation.
On April 30, a statement issued after a meeting of Turkey's National Security Council (NSC), underlined secularism as one of the basic pillars of the Turkish Republic. Reiterating that its "vigilant protection cannot be over-emphasized", it urged the AKP government to protect the secular state. The NSC is Turkey's highest policy-making body and is composed of the chief of general staff (CGS) of the armed forces and top military commanders, the prime minister and his senior colleagues and is chaired by the president of the republic. The CGS is next in protocol after the prime minister and forms one of the three centers of power, along with the president.
In 1997, Turkey's first-ever Islamist prime minister, Najemettin Erbakan, then heading a coalition government with a secular party, was made to resign by the armed forces for his failure to curb growing Islamic fundamentalism. In 1971, the military members of the NSC had forced premier Suleiman Demirel to resign for his failure to implement land and other radical reforms and curb left-right strife. The military also intervened directly in 1960 and 1980, when politicians had brought the country to an impasse.
But after cleaning up the mess created by the politicians and getting a new constitution in place, the armed forces, self-styled custodians of Kemal Ataturk's legacy of secularism, as usual, returned to the barracks. Ataturk had forged the secular republic from the ashes of the Ottoman empire after its defeat in World War I.
Arinc, a maverick politician, blotted his copybook earlier when, in a defiant gesture soon after the elections, was accompanied by his scarf-wearing wife to see the Turkish president off on a diplomatic mission. This was noted with concern by the Pashas (as the military brass is called in Turkey)as well as the secular elite. Recently, another minister's turbaned wife turned out to receive the Iranian vice president and his delegation. Then the men and the ladies went to different reception rooms, a practice frowned on by the Westernized secular elite. Wives of AKP leaders, like Prime Minister Recep Tayep Erdogan (even when he was the mayor of Istanbul) , Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul and others avoid attending state functions.
The leadership believe that women are "flowers and must find fulfillment at home". Apart from the clash over the wearing of head scarves and long body covering dresses, other differences that have cropped up between the two sides are; the appointment of the AKP's cadre with Islamic leanings to official positions, a plan to amend the Higher Education Board law and proposed radical changes in the constitution, even making it presidential. Recently, the Foreign Ministry sent a circular to its embassies abroad to "support the National View Organizations and the Fethullah Gulen schools". These have an Islamist agenda. The AKP also wants to consolidate and expand its vote. Its backers are upwardly mobile conservative trading and industrial classes from central Anatolian towns such as Kayseri, Konya and beyond, who want a share in the economic cake. This will clash with the interests of the established supporters of the secular establishment.
Some AKP leaders have also publicly criticized the armed forces' annual dismissal of officers with Islamic proclivities and connections, a practice that has been in place since the establishment of the republic. The armed forces have enjoyed autonomy in internal matters and are very sensitive about it. Many a time Abdullah Gul, a moderate, has tried to smooth differences, but the AKP's attempts to strengthen its position in the establishment, help its supporters and challenge the established secular norms have been carried on stealthily.
All these matters were discussed vigorously at the April 30 NSC meeting, which lasted seven-and-half hours. Prime Minister Erdogan, who spoke most of the time on behalf of the civilians and President Sezer, had frank discussions on the question of army appointments and other matters.
However, on one subject both the AKP government and the armed forces agreed - not allowing the US to use bases for its troops in southeast Turkey. The motion, which had the full support of the government, but with 90 percent of Turks opposed to a war on Muslim Iraq and huge crowds protesting outside parliament building and elsewhere, failed to pass muster when nearly 100 AKP deputies voted with the opposition.
Not sure of being able to garner enough support for a second vote and even afraid that the party might split apart, Erdogan did not dare take up the motion again in parliament, despite relentless US pressure and an attractive economic package said to be worth over US$30 billion. Turkey finally agreed to grant the US the use of its airspace only, that too with some conditions.
With Iraqi defenses inexplicably collapsing so easily, many in Turkey, especially the secular establishment, now rue the decision not to go along fully with the US. They would have had around 40,000 troops in north Iraq, with a say in the future shape of Iraq, notably over possible Kurdish autonomy. The Turkish armed forces, with half a century of association with the US defense establishment, left the decision to the politicians at the time of the vote, but later publicly extended its full support to the government motion.
Turkey's November 3 election results had shocked many in the West after they delivered a quixotic two-thirds majority (365 out of 550 ) to the AKP, which had received only a third (34 percent) of the total votes cast. The only other party to cross the 10 percent threshold and enter parliament was the left of the center RPP, which won nearly a third of the seats. Thus other parties remain unrepresented, but independents, polling only 1 percent of the votes, won eight parliamentary seats. Although the AKP was the front runner in pre-election polls, even its leadership was surprised by the magnitude of the windfall. A large number of new and inexperienced AKP deputies have entered parliament, many friends and officials when Erdogan was mayor of Istanbul.
In 1995, Necmettin Erbakan's Islamic Welfare party won 158 seats even though it only polled 21.3 percent of the votes. With great difficulty he formed a coalition government in 1996, which was made to resign the following year. The veteran Erbakan established the first "Islamist" party in Turkey in 1969. It was called the National Order Party, hinting at Islamic order. When it was closed in 1971 after military intervention, he named its successor the National Salvation Party ( like the Islamic Salvation Front in Algeria).
When that was banned, too, along with other parties after the 1980 military takeover, Erbakan named the next party the Welfare Party (zakat for welfare). After it was closed by law, Erbakan founded the Virtue Party. When that was also closed and a ban put on Erbakan himself from politics in 2001, Erdogan, Gul and other younger and moderate leaders of the Welfare formed the conservative AKP. They have repeatedly proclaimed that it is not a religious party. Erbakan's rightist followers have formed the Saadet Party led by Recai Kutan, a proxy for Erbakan (it won 2.5 percent of the votes in the recent elections ).
The outgoing ruling coalition parties were decimated, each getting much less than 10 percent of the votes. They were entirely responsible for the result with their mis-governance which saw a record 10 percent fall in Turkey's GDP in the preceding year, adding millions more to the ranks of the unemployed. The elections also saw the exit of the last of the dinosaurs, outgoing prime minister Bulent Ecevit, who along with Demirel, Erbakan and Turgut Ozal, all nearly 80 years old, had dominated Turkish political life over the past 40 years.
The quirky election results are an excellent demonstration of the maxim that errors tend to add up in the same direction. Turkey's d'Hont electoral system, based on the German pattern with a very high threshold, was selected to provide stability to governments in a highly fragmented polity. Apart from the fond wish that each party leader has of seeing others not crossing the 10 percent threshold, there appears a tacit understanding not to lower it to 5 percent as Kurdish parties, on the basis of their strength in the southeast, who consistently manage to cross the 5 percent mark, can be kept out of power. Kurds form over 20 percent of the population, with many supporting left of center parties.
The Pashas were clearly unhappy with the election results. After waiting for some time, they declared, "We will continue to protect the republic against any threat, particularly the fundamentalist and separatist [Kurdish] ones." Erdogan had been banned from contesting the elections because of a 1999 conviction for reciting a poem at a political rally which said that "Minarets are our bayonets, domes are our helmets, mosques are our barracks, believers are our soldiers." To begin with, both Sezer and the Pashas expressed opposition to amending the constitution to enable Erdogan to stand for bye-elections and take over as prime minister from Abdullah Gul. But later they relented.
To soothe the anxiety felt in the West over the AKP's massive victory, Erdogan and other party leaders went on a charm offensive, reiterating that the AKP was a conservative and not an Islamic party. Its leadership had no connection with the banned Islamic Welfare party of which they were once members. They did not even meet Erbakan now, they said. No changes were planned in Turkey's secular dispensation. They redoubled their efforts to take Turkey into the European Union (unsuccessfully) and stood by the International Monetary Fund's program to sort out Turkey's dire economic problems.
The West and the US were relieved to see the AKP's English-speaking leadership in Western suits (having seen the rise of Islamic parties in Pakistan with its fierce-looking bearded mullahs in last year's elections while many AKP ministers are highly educated with backgrounds in economics and management.) It helped the AKP establish its credentials as a conservative party with which Europe and the US could do business. Further legal reforms that have to be carried out in Turkey to meet EU norms will usher in greater freedom of expression, specially for the Kurds, and improve the country's human rights record. The changes will make it difficult for the secular establishment to ban the AKP and other parties with Islamic inclinations or those promoting the Kurdish cause. EU leaders have openly said that the military's role in Turkish politics must be reduced to qualify it for membership.
Tussles between the armed forces and religious political parties are nothing new in the Islamic world. In 1992, the Islamic Salvation Front in Algeria, on the verge of electoral victory and bringing in Sharia law and doing away with elections, was banned, leading to violence that is still smoldering. There is a constant battle between Islamist parties and the armed forces in Indonesia, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
Since 1923 Turkey has had a laic (secular) constitution, which, according to many, is more Jacobin than genuinely secular. The country is a member of the Council of Europe, NATO, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and it has a customs agreement with the European Union. But with its 67 million Muslims, Turkey is unlikely to be admitted into the EU any time soon, which is basically a Christian club. At the Copenhagen EU summit in December last year, France's former president Valery Giscard d'Estaing said that admitting Turkey "would be the end of the European Union" because Turkey has "a different culture, a different approach, a different way of life - it is not a European country".
Preceded by modernizing and Westernizing reforms during the last century of the Ottoman rule and nearly 80 years after Ataturk's sweeping reforms, Turkey's experiment in democracy goes wobbly from time to time. Ironically, it is invariably put back on the rails by the armed forces.
A Muslim majority state (99 percent) it is closest to a modern secular democracy in the Muslim world. Its half a million strong armed forces is a stabilizing factor in a turbulent region. But Turkey is now tending to look more to the east after the runaway success of the AKP. For stronger economic and political linkages with the east, AKP leaders have visited Turkic-speaking states in Central Asia, and also Iran, Syria (in spite of US frowns) and other neighbors recently.
The US wants other Muslim countries in the region and elsewhere to become secular democracies, so it will be keen that Turkey serve as a good, stable example. From their viewpoint, they certainly don't want the armed forces to have to intervene once again.
K Gajendra Singh, Indian ambassador (retired), served as ambassador to Turkey from August 1992 to April 1996. Prior to that, he served terms as ambassador to Jordan, Romania and Senegal. He is currently chairman of the Foundation for Indo-Turkic Studies.
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