17 September 2010

The ‘Conservative Democrats’ of Turkey

Suhail K.K

“I too am a Muslim; my grandmother used to wear headscarves”, this is what Muslim means in modern Turkey, a country with fanatic secularism in its soul and soil. The Turkish identity comprises of Ottoman, Islamic and Turkish components. Mustafa Kamal Ataturk made modern Turkey excluding the Islamic and Ottoman components. He did it with at most perfection. The above mentioned ‘Muslim identity’ is the manifestation of such a society. Even after 73 years of his death, all efforts to ‘Re-Islamize’ the country based on Secularism, Nationalism and Westernisation was in vein. The guards of Kamalism – armed force, bureaucracy, constitution court and the media – had acted in synchronisation with each other to prevent any dilution in Kamalism. Nejmuddin Erbakan’s Milli-Gorush movement and the dissolution of its political parties – The Milli Salamet Party (1972-1980), Refah Party (1983-97) and Fezilat Party (1997-2001) – are examples of how intolerant and undemocratic the state missionaries are towards any efforts of Islamization by democratic means. In fact though Turkey adopted a multi-party system in 1950 and claimed to be a liberal-democratic country, it ceases to be so. It is a semi-democratic country with National Security Council (MGK) having power to topple governments elected by the people.

A new party named ‘Adalet wa Kalkimma Partisi’ – AKP – (Justice and Development Party) under the leadership of Rejab Tayyib Erdogan was formed on 14th August 2001 in this particular context, splitting from Milli-gorush. They first of all washed themselves from the idea of ‘milli-gorush’ and coined a new political ideology named as ‘Conservative Democracy’. This though sounds very similar to ‘Theo-Democracy’ – the name given by Moulana Mawdudy to the ideology of Islamic State – AKP claims that it does not endorse to the idea of mixing religion and state. AKP firmly believes and profess that democracy is to have trust and faith in the common sense of people. Advocacy with powerful secular logics is the most vital aspect of AKP. In the November 4, 2002 elections AKP won the parliamentary elections with 35% votes and formed the Government. Remember, it was an election debut for AKP. They won the election which was fought only one year after its formation and became the ruling party. AKP is the ruling party from then till date.

The AK Party defines themselves as ‘a group of pious people’. The leadership of AKP consisted mostly of the same earlier parties - Milli Salamet Party, Refah Party and Fezilat Party and positions itself in the centre right. Since AKP believes in political pluralism it consists of Islamists, liberals and democrats, all on one platform. The leaders of AKP are more secularly oriented than the Saadet Party. They studiously kept Islam away from its policies.
The 80 pages policy of AK Party questions and redefines the notions of Turkish secularism:
• “Our party considers religion as one of the most important institutions of humanity, secularism as a pre-requisite of democracy, and an assurance of the freedom of religion and conscience. It also rejects the interpretation and distortion of secularism as entity against religion.
• Basically, secularism allows people of all religions and beliefs to comfortably practice their religions to be able to ex media their religious convictions and live accordingly, but which also allows people without beliefs to organize their lives along these lines. From this point of view, secularism is a principle of freedom and social peace.” (Page 9)

The book defining conservative democracy written by Yalcin Akdogan defines the state-religion relationship as:
• “Freedom of conscience is of utmost importance. This freedom also involves the freedom of living one’s religion in accordance with one’s belief. The state should not be able to impose its own dogma upon society.
• The state should be equidistant to all religions and thoughts, making possible their peaceful co-existence.
• The state too should be freed from the clutches of any kind of dogma. Forming a political party in the name of religion or to even give such an image is the greatest harm one can render to religion. Religion is a common belief system. Nobody has the right to try to make others more pious.
• In politics, one may take one’s cues from traditional values; one should not, however, transform the latter into an ideology. Reflection on politics of one’s personal views and feelings based on religion is only to be expected; however it does not clash with laicism.”

These quotations from the party documents clearly redefine the earlier concepts of Kamalism and Secularism. Secularism is reframed as religious freedom to all; not as against religion. This is also based on the new concept of Neo-liberal democracy. The same document says of democracy:
“It is necessary to attribute special significance to democracy for it:
(a) prevents the imposition of dogma from above
(b) allows the articulation of different points of view and
(c) makes it possible to take lessons from past mistakes.”
There policies are the reason why the Islamic identity is being strengthened in Turkey. Islamic movements and organisations are presently working actively with full freedom. This is a change seen in Turkish society after nine decades. AKP harmonises Islamic identity and Turkish Nationalism.

AKP’s track record
The people’s trust on Rejab Tayyib Erdogan and the other leaders of AKP is the success of the party in the parliamentary elections. This trust was attained by the model governance of local bodies like municipalities and corporations. Trust and reputation of people was obtained by their good political career. Erdogan as the leader of Refah Party was elected as the mayor of Istanbul City from 1994-98. Istanbul is one of the largest metropolitan cities in the world. His reforms transformed the city into a global centre of tourism and commerce with highly modern infrastructure. The long lasting problems like traffic, water shortage and corruption were solved by Erdogan’s governance.

While AKP succeeded to power, Turkey was one of the weakest economies in the world. In 2005 the old Turkish Lira (TL) was phased out of circulation. 1 New TL is equal to 10 Lakh Old TL! The inflation was brought down from a state of hyper-inflation of more than 45% (2003) to 7% (2010). Public debt as percentage of annual GDP declined from 74% (2002) to 39%(2009). AKP advocates for a liberal market economy. Within a time span of 8years of AKP’s governance, Turkey has changed to one of the biggest centre of trade in Europe.

AKP’s most attractive part of governance is its foreign policy. AKP has completely restructured its foreign policy with its talented foreign minister, Ahmed Dawutoglu. Turkey is geographically located in a point of globe which has got unmatched strategic importance. Turkey has been describes as a bridge between continents, cultures and religion. Turkey in the world is a centre of power and influence. Increasingly Turkish diplomats are being called upon to mediate important and complicated mutual disputes whether between Syria and Israel or Iran and US. Turkey has regained its historic influence across Middle East, while remaining an important ally for the European Union and United States.

Partial democracy, giving excessive powers for military is the reason why Kamalism is prevailing without any change even after 85 years of its establishment. As mentioned earlier, Military is the mightiest pillars of Kamalism. All efforts to Re-Islamize the country by Nejmuddin Erbakan were toppled by the military by conducting coups by military. One of the major focuses of this government was to implement a constitutional amendment package by a national referendum. The referendum was conducted peacefully on 12th September 2010. The date itself was fixed deliberately. 12th September 1980 was the date of military coup after which the present constitution was drafted. By God’s will, the referendum was passed by 58% majority.
The opposition had thoroughly campaigned to vote against the amendment, since it is a package to Re-Islamize the country. But AKP reiterated that all the articles in the constitutional amendment package are about bringing Turkey’s constitution to European standards and to strengthen the democracy of the country. The 26 point reform of the constitution includes:
• A member of parliament who is responsible to his /her political party` s ban still can keep the parliament membership.
• Arm forces` discipline punishments can be taken to the civil courts.
• Arm Forces Judges cannot prosecute against the state and the constitution.
• State can prosecute the Armed Forces.

The constitutional amendment is a turning point in the history of Turkey.

AKP has a well thought out political transition strategy for Turkey. The language and presentation skill of its ideology is a model for any political parties with ambitions of positive social and political change with respect to Islam especially those working in a secular environment.


Y@SiR said...

Well written sadr sahib, i was always tryin to know more abot AKP Party,ur blog was veery informative in dat aspect for me,got gud insight of how dat referendum workd in their favour,Pls recommend some books on Turkey,were it islamic roots are defined...

Sohel Sachora said...

Good. Expecting something on Bangladesh now.

SIO-Rajasthan Zone said...

Alhamdulillah...........very informative & inspirational write up.

Mirza Kamran .A.Baig said...

Good and informative...we expect future more updates about turkey...