Amid high drama, the tussle between Turkey’s military-led old guard and the elected civilian establishment led by Justice and Development Party (AKP) is nearing a decisive stage.
As both sides approach the end-game, their bitter contest to occupy prime political space, is raising fresh and serious questions about the future of Turkey’s democracy.
The astounding acrimony surrounding the no-holds barred struggle for political ascendancy, itself shows that for both sides, the stakes are extremely high. Members and supporters of the AKP, the ruling party, say that they are now ready to assault the “deep state”, which has once again been plotting for a military takeover, by unleashing unbearable conditions of internal chaos. They say that this conspiracy has been hatched by Ergenekon, a group with military roots, which has remained embedded in all strategic organs of the State.
Their detractors say the opposite-that the AKP has become a threat of Turkish secularism, rooted in the foundations laid by the country’s first President, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
Some Turkish intellectuals are of the view that the seething animosity among the old guard and the country’s elected leaders is the result of internal firmament in the Turkey’s society. New classes, especially a proud new middle class has emerged from the grassroots, which, in order to find political expression, has joined the AKP, led by charismatic Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
It is the assertion by this class, mainly of small businessmen, known for their piety, as well as a wide horizontal spread, which seems to be elbowing the traditional military-centric secular elite to the margins.
Says Bulent Kenes, editor-in-chief of the daily Today’s Zaman, that of humble origin, this new middle class has cropped up mainly in the Anatolia, the less affluent Asiatic part of Turkey. He points out that the “real story of fundamental change in Turkey can be traced to the assertion by the Anatolian Tigers - owners of small and medium enterprises, who became the staunch supporters of the AKP.”
This change has not taken place overnight. At its core, it is the result of some key reforms undertaken during the premiership of the Turgut Ozal’s, the charismatic leader who served Turkey both as Prime Minister and President in the eighties and early nineties. Mr. Ozal was responsible for opening up his country to business opportunities abroad and introduced cheap credit-a move that benefited conservative grassroots entrepreneurship. Besides, Mr. Ozal’s reforms threw open wider, the doors of higher education to conservative groups, by recognizing the qualifications acquired by students in traditional religious schools.
Apart from education, the Gulen reform movement based on writings of Fethullah Gulen provided attitudinal inputs, which awakened this budding entrepreneurial class to take advantage of the new opportunities by sensitising their religious orientation with values of hard work, tolerance, team work and public service.
The election of the AKP, which has been winning parliamentary elections since 2002, finally set the stage for the confrontation of a coherent newly emerging middle class and the old guard, which in the words of Mr. Kenes “comprises the Istanbul capitalists, ultra-nationalists, coalesced around the Kemalist military top brass as well as sections the high judiciary and bureaucracy.”
For the first time after Turkey suffered four major coups — in 1960, 1971, 1980, and 1997 — the country’s civilian rulers have demanded judicial accountability from the military for its political conduct in the past. Presently, the 1980 military coup and the so called “postmodern coup” of 1997 are under judicial investigation, with the one-time all-powerful generals facing trial. Besides, a 17 member parliamentary commission is set to probe all the past military takeovers and recommend key reforms that will prevent such extra-judicial interruptions to democracy.
Despite efforts to deepen democracy by ensuring that the military is permanently stationed in the barracks and the old elite dismantled, some analysts say that the danger of their re-assertion has been “significantly diminished but not totally eliminated”. Apart from the trials that are underway, the enforcement of Turkey’s new constitution, which is a work in progress, may go a long way in completing the country’s convoluted, and often painful, democratic transition.