A Financial Times piece on why Europe should be rewarding Turkey, rather than punishing it. That AKP seems “to be competent” sounds like faint praise, but given the standards for ruling parties in this part of the world, competence is no small achievement. I agree with the writer that this election was a milestone in Turkey’s democratic development. Let’s hope the Military doesn’t step in and muck things up.
A few excellent points:
Three reasons for the AKP’s success seem to stand out.
First, it helps to be competent and to have a national project. When Mr Erdogan’s party first won office in 2002 the nationalist right was a howling irrelevance, the left a museum-piece, and the liberal and social democratic centre had fragmented into shrinking personality cults for giant egos, cut off from the conservative heartland of Anatolia and, indeed, the lives of ordinary Turks they did so little to improve.
The AKP, by contrast, is a considered project. Recycled from the wreckage of two banned Islamist parties, liberally seasoned with mainstream conservatives and Turkey’s new business class, Mr Erdogan and his friends did their homework while they were putting the party together. They interviewed 41,000 people nationally, learning that ties to Europe and an economy in the worst recession since 1945 overwhelmingly dominated Turkish concerns; headline issues such as headscarves came a distant ninth.
The AKP has since provided good governance, with high economic growth and stability, rocketing inward investment, 2.5m new jobs and near doubled per capita income, while raising spending on education and infrastructure. It has also, as part of Turkey’s attempt to meet the criteria of European Union membership, presided over a constitutional revolution: abolishing the death penalty and criminalising torture, introducing democratic freedoms of expression and association and minority rights for the Kurds – and, above all, subordinating the army to civilian authority.
But a second reason for the AKP’s success is its astute reading of the social transformation of the country. The party is now the chosen path to modernity of the socially conservative, religiously observant but at the same time dynamic and entrepreneurial middle classes of central Anatolia, who now demand their rightful share in power, hitherto monopolised by a self-perpetuating secular elite.
The AKP’s appeal is aspirational, about giving people the chance to build fulfilling lives; but reassuring, by holding fast to the moorings of family, religion and the villages from which many Turks are just a generation away. In Islamist terms this is a traditionalist world-view that looks forward, rather than a radical outlook that harks backwards in a violent lament for past glory.
Many Turkish secularists know full well this is not theocracy by stealth; there is, indeed, a definite whiff of class animus in their resistance to the shift in the balance of power towards Turks from the provinces and the countryside. Their outlook is ossified. They are shrine-keepers for Mustafa Kemal Atatürk who, like many of those who built republican Turkey from the remains of the Ottoman empire, was a refugee, regrouping behind an essentially defensive political (and military) culture.
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