Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Forecast: Hot Summer, Increasing Showers of Rhetoric

Two interesting pieces in Turkey's English-language press today looking at how the aftermath of the Gaza flotilla raid will play out in terms of Turkey's domestic politics.

Today's Zaman's Lale Kemal believes that the flotilla incident and the resulting tension with Israel is helping the Turkish government turn attention away from other problems and believes it will turn the rhetoric up higher as next year's elections approach. From her piece:
Both Turkey’s domestic and external political environment at the time of the incident are worth elaborating on to shed some light in particular on the strength of the criticism Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo─čan leveled at Israel. This is not to say that Israel did not deserve such severe criticism.

Externally, the AK Party government, successfully pursuing a policy of zero problems with neighbors, has, however, failed to put into force protocols with Armenia on its northwest aimed at normalizing its relations with Yerevan. The Cyprus problem has been at a standstill, creating a serious roadblock to any move over continuing accession talks between Turkey and the European Union. The EU has to take its share of the blame over the stalled talks with Turkey by even declining to open the food chapter, a non-political issue.

Internally, the democratic initiative aimed to find a peaceful solution to the decades-old Kurdish problem. The hope of reducing an almost 30-year-old threat posed by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has failed to work at the desired level partly due to the government’s timidity in taking bold reformist steps on the issue. The opposition parties, meanwhile, are partly to blame for the initiative’s partial failure for declining to lend support to the government over this problem -- Turkey’s biggest -- and one that has external dimensions. The PKK’s increased violence is a matter of extreme concern.

The Constitutional Court’s pending decision over whether to cancel the constitutional reform package upon the initiative of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) remains a serious issue, the result of which will either help stability or lead to instability. If the court cancels the reforms passed by Parliament, thus preventing it from being taken to referendum on Sept. 12, it is highly likely that elections may be held in a couple of months rather than in July next year as planned.

Against this background, and in the absence of an opposition playing a constructive role in helping Turkish stability, the government, in frustration both internally and externally, appears to have increased the strength of its criticism of Israel. As the general elections, earlier or as planned, get closer, the government has inclined towards using the crisis with Israel for domestic purposes.
The full column is here.

Milliyet's Semih Idiz, writing in the Hurriyet Daily News, paints a similar picture, suggesting that a populist (actually, he suggests "demagogic") tone could come to dominate the governments rhetoric in the coming months. From his column:
....Erdogan is set to raise the volume of his bellicosity in coming weeks and months, given that Turkey will, for all intents and purposes, be moving into “election mode.” We had an opportunity to talk to Hikmet Cetin, a highly respected veteran politician and former Foreign Minister, the other day.

He too expressed serious concerns that Erdogan and the AKP would make anti-Israeli and anti-American rhetoric the centerpiece of his political campaign in the lead-up to the elections in 2011. Mr. Cetin is right to be concerned of course.

Erdogan is, after all, utilizing the least sophisticated of political tools to increase support for the AKP at home, and totally disregarding what harm he may be doing to Turkey’s well established links with the West in general and the U.S. in particular – regardless of the periodic turbulence in these ties over specific issues.

There are those who say that he is in fact doing all of this intentionally, because he is trying to turn Turkey’s direction from the West to the Islamic East. We personally believe that whatever his ultimate aim and intentions may be in this respect, Mr. Erdogan will find that it is much harder to turn Turkey’s direction than he thinks.

But it can not be denied that he and his government are providing material for those in the West who feel Turkey is in fact “drifting away.” There is truth, of course, in the contention being also put forward by some in the West today that certain countries and leaders in Europe have made it easier for the AKP to hit at the West. This is highly apparent from Erdogan’s lambasting Europe while also pursuing his populist line of demagoguery.

Some in Europe have been clinging to Mr. Erdogan and his party as the only viable reformist force in Turkey and providing him with a benefit of the doubt way beyond what is justified (even as he feeds the anti-western undercurrents in this country.) Less admiration and more attention on their part to what he is actually saying and doing at this stage should provide a wake-up call, as his latest actions and remarks appear to have done in Washington.

The bottom line is that while some may be worrying that Mr. Erdogan and the AKP are changing Turkey’s course, the truth is that it is not clear what they are trying to do, or if they even have a viable master plan for a modern Westward looking Turkey at this stage. As matters stand it appears that Mr. Erdogan is simply riding the crest of a populist conservative and Islamist wave – with nationalist overtones - which enables him to fog some seminal questions about where he is taking the country.
Full piece here.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I would also say demagogic. But Turkish journalists and columnists alike complain about 'black propaganda' by the 'West' (what that might be since Brazilean/Argentinean etc. newspapers are siding with the West) while they themselve use language will not be tolerated in Europe since it lacks integrity.
Communication professionals in Europe (PR, Journalism, Advertisement) have to obey some Code of Ethics; not in Turkey.
And its the written press that steers the public mood.