Democracy in Turkey

8 June 2010

Sahin Alpay, columnist, Zaman, said Turkey had moved from Kemalism, at the beginning of the 20th century, to democracy under bureaucratic tutelage, then to a state under military control, and finally had opened up to the West. It had applied for EU membership, which heralded in a number of progressive changes, and under the AKP Turkey had gone through a ‘silent revolution’ that introduced greater rights and liberties. There was a hiatus in the reform programme because of political and military opposition, but the reforms have picked up again.

Riza Turkmen, columnist, Milliyet, stressed that as ‘democracy’ in Europe is not just about winning elections, Turkey is not yet a full democracy. When the AKP came to power it undertook major reforms, but has now embarked on a path of “democratic authoritarianism”, where the state increasingly controls every aspect of social and political life, and is threatening the independence of the judiciary and media freedom.

The ‘Ergenekon Trial’, in which hundreds of people are accused of trying to overthrow the government, has had a significant effect on the atmosphere in the country, creating a climate where people are afraid of voicing any opposition.

Hüseyin Bagçi, Middle East Technical University, Ankara, said Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan is a rising star in international politics, seen as a leader by a substantial group of third world and emerging countries. However, Western countries are more uneasy as they see Turkey turning East and away from the West.  

Turning to Turkey’s bid for EU membership, Mr Bagçi said the process seemed to have stalled, and if this continues Ankara will look to the other parts of the world, in keeping with its new role as an ‘honest broker’ in the Middle East, but the EU and US want to prevent the country moving out of the Western orbit.

Richard Howitt, Member of the delegation to the EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee, European Parliament, declared himself a champion for Turkish EU membership and as such “a critical friend of Turkey”, He stressed that the EU should not act as if it had the right to tell accession states how to behave, but accepted that there are still some problems in terms of lack of media freedom and or political freedom for the Kurds.

Mr Howitt said the European Parliament was trying to make the case of pluralism in Turkey, and believes it is important to show Turkey that the outside community is watching to ensure it upholds international laws and to advocate for a consensual approach to constitutional reform.