Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Back from the Brink

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Back from the Brink

Article excerpt

Turkey's political leaders have a taste for high drama. Until a few days prior to the 30 July verdict, it had appeared a near certainty that the country's constitutional court would uphold an indictment calling for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul to be banned for supposedly pursuing an Islamist agenda, contrary to Turkey's founding secularist principles.

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One MP told me bleakly that he was "90 per cent sure" his party would be outlawed. Instead, after nearly five months of deliberation, the court's 11 judges rejected that option by a single vote. Turkey had stood, according to the newspaper columnist Omer Taspinar, on "the brink of political suicide and miraculously managed to survive".

The court's decision was seized on by some in AKP as evidence that the balance of power in Turkey had swung further in favour of the ruling party at the expense of a secular elite that AKP sees as being out of touch with the realities of Turkish life beyond the upmarket neighbourhoods of Istanbul and Ankara.

"This decision shows that the exclusive state elite cannot get its way, despite everything it has been trying since last year," the AKP MP Suat Kiniklioglu told me.

In calling elections a year ago, and winning them by a landslide, Erdogan was hailed for having stared down the threat of a secularist-backed coup after Turkish military leaders expressed concerns over the nomination of Gul--a practising Muslim whose wife wears a headscarf--to the presidency. Now Erdogan has stared down the threat of a "judicial coup" as well.

Ultimately, however, the court's decision appears to be grounded in pragmatic rather than ideological considerations. Since coming to power in 2002, AKP has been credited with bringing good governance and fiscal competence to Turkey, triggering a surge of investment and prosperity in the party's Anatolian heartland. …

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