What is meant by New Turkey? By Aasia Khatoon Khattak

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Turkey’s ruling AKP (Justice and Development Party) won the local elections by getting the majority votes by 46 % on March 30, 2014. AKP’s election victory was largely unprecedented when there are ongoing and severe corruption allegations against Prime Minister Erdoğan as well as three of the cabinet ministers. All this took place while the repercussions of the Gezi Park protests in the summer of 2013 will still fresh coupled with the leakage of sound and video tapes by December 2013 suggestive of the graft claims. The Turkish public opinion fulminated with a number of protests as the common people, opposition and ruling-party politicians, the business sector, and the university youth intensely questioned and pressured the government to be frank to prove or deny the allegations of corruption. Despite the wishful thinking that the election results would end severe discussions and even after the significant victory of the AKP, the questions and claims on corruption are still holding ground.

Instead of weathering the turmoil in a composed way, AKP introduced a variety of policies and passed laws that significantly curtailed constitutional freedoms that were most recently promised and adopted in the 2010 Constitutional Referendum. For instance, the AKP-majority Turkish parliament summarily passed a crucial law that strengthened the sway of the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) by authorizing the Turkish intelligence service with a methodical eye on the actions of Turkish citizens, extending the service’s mandate to have a strong say about planning the foreign policy and handling critical issues like terrorism. The most debated aspect of the MİT law has been its enabling the MİT chief and its officials with extraordinary protection against any legal action. This simply means that, in Turkey, it is no longer possible to call some state authorities to account for their transgressions.

Opposition parties in Turkey, especially the CHP, remark that this law acts as a shield for the PM Erdoğan by protecting him from any probe on corruption allegations that have been on the news since the last quarter of 2013. Sweeping acts such as the new Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) law is also seen by the naysayers as an attempt to place the Judiciary under the influence of the AKP and silence the voice of allegations. Bills that were passed recently to ban the social media such as the YouTube and the Twitter and to restrict the Internet categorically aimed to close down all websites and restrict access to the media that revealed “political privacy”. Yet, the ban on Twitter was removed after the local elections by a judicial order from the Constitutional Court.

Passing blanket laws, placing bans and restrictions, conflicting with the civil society and pointing fingers at opinion leaders like Fethullah Gülen, AKP seems to have adopted the policy for fulfilling the necessities to pave their path of victory in the local and forthcoming national and presidential elections. On the other hand, such immediate changes in AKP’s policies and democratic perspective raise a host of vital questions, especially on the real intentions of the party as it were usually pronounced by the secular circles: Defining itself as a conservative and progressive political party, AKP has always borne the brand of Islamism which was basically originated from the Milli Görüş (National View) understanding of the Erbakan’s various parties, most recently the Saadet (Felicity) Party. Such uncompromising changes in AKP’s policies provide adequate ground for the political and social opposition in Turkey that AKP is set on founding an authoritative and conservative image of Turkey inside and outside her domain while she has long been valued as a country who fruitfully keeps Islam and democracy as one in the public sphere.

Before graft or corruption allegations about the AKP in December 2013, the party and the Hizmet were considered as close allies. The differences first surfaced in November 2013 when PM Erdoğan expressed his intentions to close down the private tuition centers that prepare students for university entrance exams across Turkey. About 30 per cent of the entire private tuition centers in Turkey were opened by Hizmet-inspired people, however PM’s extensive discourse of closing institutions opened by free enterprise drew ire. Later this discourse evolved into downright statements and hateful speeches by the Turkish Prime Minister while addressing the public rallies during local election campaigns. While the answer to the question why AKP moves against Gülen so fiercely is still unknown, it may be that Prime Minister Erdoğan may be increasingly disturbed by the civil influence of the Hizmet and the Hizmet’s insistence as a civil society element about cleaner politics after allegations of corruption in state mechanism.

Notwithstanding that it was only the local elections; PM Erdoğan spoke to his supporters from the balcony of the AKP headquarters as if it was the party’s victory after the forthcoming national elections. He used the expression, “New Turkey” by saying, “I thank you very much because you have protected the new Turkey’s struggle for independence. Every single individual in the 77-million people should know that the new Turkey won today. This is the wedding day of the new Turkey.”

The word “New Turkey” here is not merely addressing the conservative and Islamic policies of the AKP but also throwing light on Turkey’s foreign policy shift from European Union to the Muslim World mainly towards the Middle East. The term also addresses Turkey’s balanced approach for growing energy and trade relations with all the regional powers in order to fulfill her own energy needs.

AKP takes pride as the first Turkish political party which remarkably boosted the Turkish economy by incorporating herself with the standards and demands by the European Union and European markets. Even though she may have cut speed in the wake of recent internal problems and recent paradigm shift in geopolitics, Turkey moves on steadily. On the horizon are two critical destinations, namely the presidential and national elections. There may be a burning need to lower tensions to make it there with composure.
Aasia Khatoon Khattak is a Ph.D candidate at International Relations and Political Science, International Islamic University.