The battle for Turkey's Soul. Party closures, gangs and the state of democracy - April 2008

The battle for Turkey's Soul. Party closures, gangs and the state of democracy

2007 was a dramatic year for Turkish politics and society, even by the standards of a country used to political drama. However, few people would have expected 2008 to be even more volatile, and potentially catastrophic, for Turkish democracy.

Today the headscarf has again become a potent symbol of the struggle between the conservative AKP government, reelected in July 2007 with overwhelming public support, and its Kemalist opponents. The question is now whether the Constitutional Court, with its record of siding with the Kemalist establishment, is prepared to attempt a judicial coup, plunging Turkey into a deep constitutional crisis.

The prospect of a judicial coup seems extraordinary for a country that is a member of NATO and the Council of Europe and is negotiating for EU membership. But sadly, derailing Turkey's move towards Europe may be the very goal of this political manoeuvre, by those who prefer international isolation to giving up their traditional power and privileges.

We believe that Turkey's friends and allies should urge the Government to go on the offensive. The AKP should use its popular mandate to push ahead with plans for an overhaul of the current constitution, not waiting for the judgement of the Court. The present constitution, dating from 1982, is still all too obviously the product of the military coup that took place in 1980. A referendum on a new, more liberal constitution would under current conditions become a referendum on the very essence of Turkish democracy. In this way, in one of the many ironies that characterise political life in Turkey, it may very well be that the headscarf, the symbol most feared by Turkey's secularists, could become the trigger finally pushing Turkey to adopt a modern European constitution.

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