The victory of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) was very much expected in the recent Turkish Parliamentary elections that took place on June 12. The AKP managed to get 49.9% of the votes which is not sufficient for an overall majority in the parliament and means that the winners will likely have to seek cooperation with their opponents in order to achieve certain goals. Below we examine the possible outcomes of the AKP’s attempts to create a new constitution as well as assessing the broader outlook for Turkey as it goes forward.
Even without the vast majority that many expected, the AKP’s victory is clear and will help it to start implementing its agenda, albeit with more difficulty than it would like. Of course, this agenda has been much discussed over the last weeks and many of its points are probably known by now. Among other things it includes Turkey’s relations with the EU, the Kurdish question, energy policy and the effort to create a new constitution. The latter point about the new constitution is the culmination of Erdogan’s policy since the AKP’s first election in 2002 which aims to weaken Turkey’s “Deep State” – or in other words the military’s influence in political life – and reduce its influence in the state’s governing apparatus. This will enhance and ease the AKP’s rule by promoting its political objectives, especially its challenging foreign policy agenda.
The efforts to create a new constitution seem like a relatively easy and mostly bureaucratic undertaking since, as has been argued by many, the AKP will likely be able to implement it eventually, either through cooperation in parliament or a referendum. That would, of course, be yet another victory for the AKP after the success of the referendum of September 12, 2010 and the past elections. But this is far from the reality. The political battle that Erdogan and the AKP are about to fight, is perhaps the hardest since the “Ergenekon” case where Kemalists, linked to the army, planned to overthrow Erdogan’s government.
It is important to note that a large part of Turkish society, approximately 30% or more, still supports the Kemalist character of the state and is concerned about the future of the country under the Islamist government of Erdogan. Perhaps the gradual emergence and strengthening of Islam in the country’s political life was inevitable since Kemal’s attempt for modernisation overlooked the extent to which Islam was part of the culture of the people and elites. Nonetheless, Erdogan’s policy today is not all that different. Since 2002, using the guise of Turkey’s candidacy for EU accession and its quest for democratisation, the AKP has implemented various reform packages which aimed, among other things, to undermine the Kemalist influence. We have seen, however, that this process has not left the Kemalist generals unmoved for yet again in the history of the Turkish state, they have tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to overthrow the government.
In this light, Erdogan’s attempt to implement a new constitution could be shown to be an even greater danger to the country’s stability. The Kemalists, though weakened, are likely to react unpredictably if a serious attempt to revise the constitution were to take place, since it is this very constitution that made them protectors of the Turkish state and the guardians of the Kemalist principles. In essence, Erdogan is methodically trying to uproot the ideology upon which the creation of the Turkish state rests.
The AKP’s challenges in establishing a new constitution are expected to be stiff. In terms of Turkey’s policy on issues such as the Kurdish Question, the Greek-Turkish Relations and the Cyprus problem, the country’s behaviour is not likely to change. This is mainly because of the geo-economic developments in the Eastern Mediterranean as well as because of Turkey’s questionable ambition to become part of the EU. At its core, the clash between Islam and Kemalism is a conflict over power. However, in national issues (e.g. Armenia, Cyprus, Greece), the interests at stake are the same for both sides.
 There has always been a political battle between Kemalism and Islamism (in this case the AKP). Kemalism (named after Kemal, the founder of Turkey) is the ideology upon which the creation of Turkey was based and is mainly driven by secularism and nationalism while opposing the engagement of religion (Islam) in politics. The armed forces are by law the protectors of the Kemalist principles. Islamism – and particularly Turkish political Islam – has its roots in the Ottoman tradition and culture. Since the mid-20th century up until today it has been getting stronger and more involved in the state’s political life, thus causing a clash between the secular Kemalists and neo-Ottoman Islamists.
Posted on June 26, 2011, on www.global-politics.co.uk.