Sunday, August 10, 2008

People change?

The purpose of this post is not to make a judgement on whether Turkey's Constitutional Court should have shut down Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) on July 30. I still don't have an opinion on that. I would just hope Turkish people could produce a political movement which does not derive its power from religion (or the lack of, for that matter), but simply its competence in policy making and commitment to pluralism. And if I don't like any of the two sides, I don't have to take sides. Taking sides when both sides are wrong does injustice to the truth, to something better. I don't want to take sides in this struggle. I want out, I want a better, third option.

The purpose of this article is simply to understand why the staunch secularist judges let the AKP survive this. A favorable decision for the AKP was not expected given the judges' track record and the balance of power within the court.

A constructivist would claim that the judges changed their minds about the pay-offs associated with each option. So the calls for a "compromise solution" worked. The judges either perceived the potential costs of shutting down the AKP as higher than they did before, or the costs of letting it off the hook lower. In other words, the judges were either afraid of the consequences of banning a ruling party, i.e. political instability and associated economic costs. Or they realized that AKP is not as dangerous to the secular system as its predecessors, Welfare Party and Virtue Party.

A rationalist, on the other hand, would not expect this outcome, unless something deterred the judges from banning the party by altering their pay-offs. A rationalist would argue that our judges, as far as we know them, would have viewed AKP's long-term threat to the secular state as outweighing any short-term turbulance their verdict could create. Besides, their priority would have been to protect the Turkish constitution, (rather than suggesting that political parties would do well amending it!) Secondly, our judges would have perceived AKP as a credible threat, since it holds the power unprecedented by its predecessors. In short, a rationalist would dismiss the constructivist argument as wishful thinking.

Unless something changed the equation. Something that dawned on the analysts of international banks days before the actual ruling was out.

Whatever the reason of the judges' decision was, this decision signals a shift in conventional sense and expectations. Now we need to make our predictions based on a new formula, since what we took as given turned out to be variable. Maybe this is an all-out power struggle, and we cannot count on precedents anymore.

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