03/28/2009, 00.00
TURKEY

Elections in Turkey: testing ground for Erdogan and the army

NAT da Polis
The AKP is the clear favorite, and seems set to win over the nationalists and Kurds. The electoral campaign has been conducted amid scandal, but freely and openly. The unknown postelection scenario: relations with the EU, or a "neo-Ottoman" program? Even the Vatican has something to say.

Istanbul (AsiaNews) - Tomorrow, March 29, Turkey will hold the most important administrative elections in its modern history. These elections, in fact, will determine the new political composition of the country, as a testing ground for the most important political transition after that of 1923, when Ataturk founded the Turkish Republic: the result of these elections will be a sort of referendum that could either confirm or fail to confirm the end of a parliamentary regime characterized until now by the invasive presence of the armed forces in the management of Turkish affairs.

In the newspaper Radikal, Hasan Celal Guzel wrote that after March 29, Turkish could conclude the period of state coups by the army. The importance of these elections can be seen in the fact that since the beginning, they have involved the party leaders themselves, more than the candidates, and that the campaign has been conducted at the grassroots level, from door to door.

Erdogan seems set to win

The long electoral debate began after the sentence from the Supreme Court in the summer of 2008, which prevented the suspension of the AKP, Erdogan's governing party. The climate has been burdened by the continual revelations on the case of the terrorist group Ergenekon, with which Erdogan has stretched the credibility of the armed forces, and on the clash between Erdogan and Dogan, the head of the most important media group in Turkey, connected to the old Kemalist establishment. Dogan has been accused of tax evasion, and risks the dissolution of his media empire, but his guilt seems connected more to the fact that he brought light to the Fener Davasi case, a financial scandal in which some of Erdogan's close collaborators have been charged.

Baykal, the head of the CHP, the party founded by Kemal Ataturk, is fighting for his political survival in these elections, and although he has denounced Erdogan for the dissolution of the secular state, he did not hesitate to accept the decision on headscarves for women. Meanwhile, the head of the MHP (the nationalist party) is seeking to corner the votes of the young people disappointed by Baykal, and afraid of Erdogan's party.

Despite the crisis that is also beginning to affect Turkey, Erdogan is convinced that he has changed the history of this country, and is seeking definitive confirmation in these elections. All the more so in that the local administrations led by the governing AKP party, although they are not free from corruption, have administered well. In addition to these tangible results, the AKP has even presented modern women, with short skirts, as candidates. So he is telling everyone that if he does not win the elections with 47% of the vote, he will resign.

And then there is the Kurdish wild card in Diyarbakir, toward which Erdogan has conducted an all-out campaign. The analyst Ismail Kucukkaya says that Kurdish voters in the area are facing a serious dilemma: whether to vote according to logic, for the AKP, or according to sentiment, for the DTP, the Kurdish party. If the DTP loses support, this would also be a heavy blow for the PKK, the armed party of Ocalan, which is accused of terrorism.

Relations with Europe

One new element of this electoral campaign is the widespread sense of freedom that pervades the big cities above all. This is due in large part to the clash between the old establishment and the AKP. Thanks to the latter, the grip of the state over the masses and minorities, its asphyxiating control, has been relaxed.

Massive urbanization has also contributed to changing the mentality. Some of the members of the ODP party (the only true leftist party, and European in its orientation) says that there is a severe conflict between urban and rural culture in Turkey. This transformation could certainly produce many new outcomes.

The greatest danger for the country today seems to come from the possible exaltation or arrogance that could result from the geopolitical importance that Turkey is taking on - prompted in part by the new U.S. administration, urging it toward a neo-Ottoman model. And it is worrying that certain schools of thought, like that of Chicago, are urging Turkey to turn its back on Europe and resume its former Ottoman-style role.

Of course, President Gul, visiting Brussels yesterday, promised that after tomorrow's elections there will be a resumption of negotiations to integrate Turkey into the EU. EU commissioner José Manuel Barroso spoke about freedom of the press in Turkey, and about the fine levied against Dogan. The EU is calling for reforms, but Bajis, the Turkish head of relations with the EU, said that the journey of European integration is being slowed by the EU itself!

To all of these voices is added that of the Vatican. According to the president of Cyprus, Christofias, who met with the pope yesterday, the Holy See is in favor of Turkey's entry into the EU, if the country meets European standards. At the same time - again according to Christofias - the pope is concerned over the withering of the Christian and cultural roots in the northern part of the island, which was occupied by the Turkish army in 1974.

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