07/04/2008, 00.00
TURKEY
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Erdoğan and Kemalist establishment trade blows at each other

by NAT da Polis
On the one hand, there is a demand before the Constitutional Court to disband the AKP; on the other, former generals have been arrested in the Ergenekon Network affair. Should the Court dissolve the AKP, current prime minister has a new party waiting in the wings, but he could no longer officially take part in politics.
Ankara (AsiaNews) – The fight between Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the country’s Kemalist establishment that claims Atatürk’s inheritance continues unabated, blows below the belt and all. On the one hand, the Constitutional Court has ruled against reforms that would have allowed veiled women into state-run universities. The ruling came after Chief Prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalçınkaya filed a suit against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), demanding that the party be closed and 71 officials barred from politics for five years, including President Abdullah Gül and Prime Minister Erdoğan, on the grounds that they plan to introduce Islamic law in Turkey.

Whilst Mr Erdoğan has another new party ready to go (Güçlü Türkiye Partisi or Strong Turkey Party), his government launched an investigation into the Ergenekon network, an allegedly clandestine political organisation, and has arrested two top figures from the military establishment: General Sener Erugur, a retired former commander of Turkey’s paramilitary forces, and General Hursit Tolon, former commander of 1st Army Corps—both accused of plotting a coup since 2004. Cumhuriyet’s Ankara correspondent Mustafa Balbayi, writer Erol Mutercmler, and Turhan Comez, Erdoğan’s personal physician and advisor, thought to be an informer for the so-called “Deep State,” were also arrested.

Curiously, the arrests came after a meeting between Erdoğan and General İlker Başbuğ, current commander of the Turkish Army, slated to replace General Mehmet Büyükanıt as chief of the General Staff of the Turkish Armed Forces at the end of August. General Başbuğ denied any connection between the meeting and the arrests.

More recently the Taraf daily newspaper published a report based on a plan allegedly by the armed forces in September 2007. The latter’s denial did not remove all doubts.

According to the plan judges were to be prompted to oppose any constitutional reform and mass media and various intellectuals were to be used to come out against any constitutional change, in order to wear down the government whatever the financial cost. Now the search is on for which journalists and intellectuals were willing to collaborate.

Similarly, the Times of London published an investigation last week,  reprinted in today’s Zaman, which highlighted concerns in Brussels for the financial initiatives of the Oyak Group.

Founded in 1961 the group manages among other things a pension fund that provides a supplementary pension for officers in the armed forces and some civilian military personnel. More importantly, it looks more like a strategic vehicle than a passive portfolio investor, conducting its business in the manner of a private equity firm flushed with money.

All this is happening because for Turkey’s armed forces the country was born as a geographic rather than a cultural entity. For them any variation is seen as an attack on the Turkish nation’s integrity. Only this can help understand what is going, according to an old Italian diplomat.

“Turkish society has been traumatized,” said Dengir Firat, AKP vice chairman as a result of Atatürk’s revolutionary reforms.

Erdoğan has acknowledged that this ongoing clash is negatively affecting the Turkish economy as inflation and interests go up.

A survey by Adil Gür, perhaps the best analyst of Turkish society, published in the weekly Tempo shows that people have lost faith in the current political leaders and that they are concerned about sliding back to the economic crisis of 2001.

The average man and woman of the street want new leaders and future. If elections were held today, the AKP would get 39.7 per cent of the vote (down from 47 per cent in July 2007), the CHP would get 17.1 per cent (unchanged) and the MHP, 17.1 per cent (+ 2 per cent).

Most voters remain undecided however. When asked whether they would vote for the AKP, 61 per cent said yes, a sign that that most share the party’s outlook. When asked whether a new party was needed 53.8 per cent said no.

This uncertainty has led General İlker Başbuğ to say that Turkey is going through tough times. “We all need to be responsible, imperturbable and cautious,” he said.

For its part, the European Union under the French presidency reiterated once again that shutting down the AKP would freeze Turkey’s EU application.

In the meantime, Prime Minister Erdoğan has a new party waiting in the wings should the Constitutional Court disband the AKP (and certainly spare President Gül), the Güçlü Türkiye Partisi or Strong Turkey Party, which would be led perhaps by Ali Babacab or Göksel Akman.

Finally, should Erdoğan be banned for a second time (the first time was in 1998), he would no longer be allowed to take part in political activity under the existing Penal Code.

It is no therefore accident that Istanbul is plastered with posters saying: “We have seen the sun rise again; judges willing.”

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