October 28, 2009
Student # 301017453
Turkey’s Political reforms in Light of Domestic and International Pressures In this essay I will explore the different aspects leading to the successful implementation of political reforms in Turkey during the last decade, and Political Islam’s rise as the agent of change for such reforms. This political process will also be discussed in the context of its affect on Turkey’s outstanding issues in both the domestic (Constitutional Institutions, Army and the Kurdish Minority) and foreign (EU accession, US-Turkey relations, PKK fighting) perspectives. There were many factors leading to the successful political reforms formulated in Turkey during the last decade. The financial inflation in 2001 followed by an economic recession in 2001-2002 brought high rates of unemployment. The Islamist rooted AKP (Justice and Development) Party was able to utilize the people’s dissatisfaction with Turkey’s political and economic systems as a means to gain influence. The public perceived the governance systems in place as having inherent problems that in turn produced inequalities and patronage networks. (Mecham 340) Persecutions of the Islamist parties and its leaders especially during the 70s, culminating in the Military’s Coup D’état in the early 80s gained sympathy for Political Islam and its leaders. It questioned the integrity and democratic nature of the state endorsing such interventions that were aimed at securing its secular nature, mainly by excluding political Islamist actors and behaviours from the decision making bodies and institutions. The Islamist stream didn’t lack support before Erdogan’s election as Turkey’s Prime Minister in 2002. The support gained by Islamist representatives such as Turkey’s former Prime Minister Erbakan were significant enough to implement constitutional changes in 1987 that lifted the ban over him and his supporters’ participation in the political process in Turkey. This process culminated in Erbakan’s rise to power in 1996, entering a coalition alongside the Cillar party. The significant change in Erdogan’s administration, in comparison with its Islamist predecessors, was articulated in the process of political learning.(Mecham, 340) Political Islam understood that in order to avoid Military interventions they will have to play by the constitution’s rules. Since the Constitutional Institutions of governance and the Ataturk loyal Army would react almost as a self-preservation reflex (Somar, 6) to any outstanding Islamist behaviour; they reframed, but not changed, their agenda in order to achieve political legitimacy under the current constitutional constraints of separation between state governance and religious practices. (Mecham, 341) This trend became clear with Erbakan’s re-emergence after the 1980 Military Coup D’état with themes of social justice rather than religious conservatism. (Mecham, 342) A more recent example is the split in the Islamist stream following the Constitutional Court’s order to close the Virtue Party (a successor of Erbakan’s Welfare Party). One stream of Islamist reformists led by Erdogan (the AKP Party) embraced social justice, human rights and purification of the democratic process to make it a more inclusive one. The other headed by Erbakan’s Felicity Party continued preaching for religious conservatism.
These moderate themes were simply a less confrontational method to serve Political Islam’s goals of integrating religion and state which opposes Constitutional Law. This strategic shift in their message is aimed towards avoiding military interventions and political exclusions by aligning their theme with the democratic dimension that the constitution is set to provide. (Mecham, 345) Once Political Islam was able to ensure its survival within the system, it started reaping the benefits of these political freedoms and democratic rewards as a part of the system rather than a body that tries to undermine it. There...
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