Turkey tensions foretold: AKP overreach, booze ban politics & the PKK

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While the Turkey Pulse team covers the protests in Turkey, don’t miss some of the prescient analysis Al-Monitor ran in recent months about growing domestic concern at creeping authoritarianism and AKP overreach that explains and anticipates the tensions that erupted in recent days.

Yavuz Baydar, in Turkey’s ‘moral majority’ tests its power, wrote May 27, 2013:

…The trap of populism has become more attractive for the AKP ahead of three critical elections and a possible constitutional referendum expected in 2014, and, notably, in the wake of the strategic regional “synchronization” with the White House, which effectively means also a blank check for arbitrary action in domestic politics.

In other words, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the AKP will either steer the 12-year “Turkish Glasnost” era in the right direction, or Turkey will continue to be a semi-democracy under a hegemonic political power and in a tutelage system where the only change is the identity of the government that opts for the easy way of its own convenience and interests. […]

Other suffocating moves are likely to follow the alcohol bans, the kissing ban and the punishment of opinions deemed to offend religion and sacred values.

But one has to see all those controversies in the big picture to realize that the threats looming for Turkey are all essentially problems of democratization.

One thing is certain: No matter what you call it — be it Islamism, post-modern authoritarianism or high-handedness — this “Kulturkampf” will have no winner.

Mustafa Akyol introduced post-Kemalist Turkey, writing April 4, 2013:

…Most of these secular liberals are now becoming concerned about the AKP’s own authoritarian tendencies, real or perceived. Some of them also note that, despite enormous changes, some things never change in Turkey, such as the patriarchal political culture and the hubris of whomever comes to power.

Kadri Gursel explained the politics behind Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s anti alcohol push:

Why really is the AKP in a rush about alcohol bans? Why the hurry?

Three elections are looming in 2014: local elections in March, then presidential polls in September and perhaps a constitutional referendum afterward.

The efforts for a new constitution are deadlocked. The Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) has refused to back Erdogan’s plans for a presidential system. The constitutional referendum, planned for the autumn, is thus postponed to a later date.

The AKP’s strategy is not aimed at social engineering alone. The Islam-inspired alcohol bans aim to consolidate the party’s electoral base by winning back the nationalist/conservative voters who will be lost to the peace process with the PKK.

Karabekir Akkoyunlu, in Erdogan’s Brave New Turkey Looks to the Past and the Future, wrote April 3, 2013:

…With nationalism in retreat as the state-endorsed mechanism for forging social unity, religion will play a more pronounced role as a source of unifying identity and the prime mover of popular sentiments in Turkey. The AKP government has long viewed Islam as a force that could draw Kurds closer to the state.  […]

But in a country where the prime minister is already treated like a modern day prophet by sycophantic subordinates, where dissenting students, journalists, politicians and civil society activists are routinely imprisoned under the government’s highly illiberal anti-terrorism laws, and where there is growing evidence of self-censorship in the media, a powerful presidency could be a recipe for authoritarianism.

That risk is greater because the system proposed by the government takes aim at the democratic principle of the separation of powers, in favor of political expediency. A “super presidency” — equipped with the authority to dissolve the parliament, rule through executive decrees and appoint senior judges and bureaucrats without parliamentary approval — is more in line with Chavez’s Venezuela or Morsi’s Egypt, than the American presidential system which Turkish officials cite as a model. Echoing a liberal commentator not usually known for his criticisms of the government: this is not the system that Turkey needs, but rather the one that Erdogan wants.

(Photo: Demonstrators stand in front of a make shift shield during clashes with Turkish riot police in central Ankara June 2, 2013. REUTERS/Umit Bektas)