Thursday, March 19, 2009

Democratization and the AKP

Since I couldn't get my point across in the office today, I decided to write it here. This was supposed to be the introduction of a report we were writing in the office, most of which was later omitted.

This is largely based on two articles written by Menderes Çınar from Başkent University, which I highly recommend. The first one is Turkey's Transformation Under the AKP Rule, The Muslim World, Volume 96, Number 3, July 2006 , pp. 469-486(18).

The second one is Çınar's chapter from Secular and Islamic Politics in Turkey: The Making of the Justice and Development Party, edited by Ümit Cizre and published in 2007. The chapter is called the Justice and Development Party and the Kemalist Establishment.
"When the Justice and Development Party (AKP) first came to power in Turkey in 2002, many saw the party as a political force that could make Turkish society more democratic. The AKP appealed to the right as well as to the left of the political spectrum by advocating liberal economic policies alongside the country’s Europeanization. Taking a more moderate line allowed the AKP to become the trustee of center right politics in Turkey following a decade of poor economic performance and corruption scandals that destroyed the credibility of the mainstream non-Islamist center-right parties.

The performance of the AKP, however, especially in its second term in office following the 2007 general elections, raises the question of whether the AKP leadership has truly internalized liberal democratic values. The AKP has used the EU as the main instrument to introduce democratic reforms in the face of opposition from the state elite. However, the stalling of the negotiation process amid mixed signals from the EU powers exposed the AKP’s limited understanding of democracy and lack of a democratization strategy independent of the EU membership drive.

The AKP’s main goal seems to be strengthening elected political class vis-à-vis the establishment dominated state. As such, the AKP overlooks the power relations between classes, genders, religious and ethnic groups within the Turkish society and these groups’ grievances, reproducing Kemalism’s distaste for politicization of different interests, and constrains its definiton of democracy to rejecting the state’s domination over political class. The party’s recent reduction of the Kurdish cause to an armed conflict and its harsh response to 1 May demonstrations illustrate this point. Naturally, one exception is the rights and liberties of Islamic identity.

The AKP’s real trouble with a state-dominated political class does not result from the undemocratic and unaccountable nature of the relationship. The AKP appears to be more concerned with who is controlling the state. Instead of increasing transparency and accountability in state institutions and bureaucracy, the party is replacing the incumbent state elite with its own supporters. It is following the same strategy of community-creating and personalizing politics as the Kemalist state establishment, displaying distrust to individuals outside its own community."

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