Thursday, July 26, 2007

A Postscript on the Turkish Elections

Well now that the dust has settled, it is clear that the "soft" Islamist Justice and Development (AK) party has been returned to power in Turkey. One of many parties in Turkey (Barak Sansal, Political Parties in Turkey), the AK Party won sizable votes all over the country, though their performance was most contested in the more western oriented parts of the country. This election, we have been told by the media elite, was critically important as the "only way to resolve a standoff between the country's ruling Justice and Development party (AK) and the country's secular elite, including the army." Focus Turkey: Q & A: Turkey's Elections,, July 16, 2007. "Unofficial results gave his ruling Justice and Development (AK) party 47 per cent, up 13 points from 2002. But a more united opposition means it will get only 339 out of 550 seats, slightly fewer than now." AK Ruling Party Wins Turkey Polls,, July 23, 2007.

The Europeans, in particular, are happy with the results. The AK Party is officially committed to the EU accession process and appears amenable to ending its support for the Turkish separatists in Cyprus so that the European consensus on the "right" result in that ethnic and political quarrel may be imposed. But the AK Party is also an Islamist Party, and the EU has become increasingly reluctant to support full membership for Turkey.

Thus consider the following interpretation of the election results in terms of strategic decisions of the elites within Turkey and the EU:

I think all players understand that EU membership is problematic at best and perhaps even unlikely. So all parties are playing a game of chicken for their own not well-hidden agendas. The Turkish Islamist party plays along to protect their European populations (many of whom came back to Turkey to vote) and to enhance their own internal power by pointing to cooperation with the EU as the source of Turkish economic growth. At the same time, they may well expect a final rejection by the EU of full membership. And at that point they can play the Islamist card. Able to point to the Europeans as the great betrayers, the AK Party might then offer Islam as an alternative to the EU to an enraged and humiliated populace. And to make that more likely, the AK Party might start making a series of small changes to the culture of Turkish governance (for example a direct election of the Turkish President) that might strengthen its hands in the long term.

The EU elite is also engaging in strategic behavior. It is fortunate because it can speak with almost thirty mouths, none of whom can commit the EU. Thus, the EU can scare Turkey with the speeches of the new French President while encouraging the Turks with quiet, if ambiguous, assurances from other Member State heads of State. In the end, the EU is playing for time. It seeks to entangle Turkey so deeply in the acquis and the governance culture of the EU that Turkey’s elite will find it difficult to pull away no matter what the EU decides on its status. This process has already begun. At a lecture at Yeditepe University immediately after elections, Vice President of the EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee Andrew Duff expressed the view that EU membership for Turkey is unlikely until the EU adopts "a common foreign and security policy . . . . As Turkey's accession would expand the borders of EU countries to Syria and Iraq, 'the EU could not contemplate such an expansion if the union fails to put in place a credible, strong, common foreign and security policy.'" A Difficult Way for Turkey to EU, Turkish Daily News, July 28, 2007. And Duff noted the usual stumbling blocks to membership as well: "Cyprus, the Kurdish problem and the opposition of several member countries to Turkey's accession." A Difficult Way for Turkey to EU, supra. Consequently, it is likely that the EU means to eventually offer Turkey something of a consolation prize. Along with the Ukraine, some Mediterranean states and others, it might be permitted all the benefits of membership other than free movement of workers. And it will also be locked out of the governance of the EU. The Norwegian solution appears to be likely result.

The Americans, of course, are playing for different stakes altogether. They want a form of Islamist government to serve as an exit model for their disaster in Iraq. But Turks are not Arabs (or Iranians or Malays, for that matter). And it is never clear that governance structures might be easily translated even between Muslim majority states. Consider the elementary insight of comparative law that cautions against an easy importation of legal culture and rules even as between states with very similar legal cultures.

All positions are risky. The AK Party may not last long enough to effect a shift in the governance culture of Turkey. The EU may push Turkey closer to the Central Asian region (and China or the US). The Americans may discover that soft Islam and soft Christianity does not guarantee an identity of interests, or even of political stability.

The Turkish elections, thus, provides a window on a complex area of international relations, and the creation of supra-national rule of law systems. It points to a range of potential future questions the answers to which will affect the way in which global law is understood.

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