SPEAKING FREELY Politics worsen Turkey's faultlines
By Ozan Serdaroglu
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While the four political parties in the Turkish parliament are seeking to achieve consensus over drafting a new constitution, clear faultlines are crystallizing in the Turkish political landscape.
This started with the Gezi Park demonstrations in May and June, and was followed by the conclusion of the Ergenekon trial in Augus which convicted a number of military officials for plotting a coup, provoking outrage among secularists and nationalists. It
then continued with the most recent anti-governmental protests, which have so far cost six lives. It seems clear Turkey is in the throes of increasing political and social strains.
Amid the tensions, major political parties are on the one hand declaring their commitment to jointly drafting a new constitution - one which will purportedly be more democratic and reflect the country's plurality. However, in reality they are looking for ways to shore up their core support bases and develop strategies on an antagonistic basis.
For its part, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government's new discourse is that it alone is the only legitimate body representing the dominant values and needs of Turkish society, while its challengers are branded as barriers to a stronger Turkey.
In the government's understanding, the sole source of political legitimacy is the ballot box. Receiving 50% of the vote in the parliamentary elections two years ago, the success of the AKP's strategy in winning the next elections with the same level of success depends on it maintaining and galvanizing this support at the cost of alienating those - the other half of the electorate - whose sympathies do not lie with the AKP.
Exacerbating this strategy is the fact that the other opposition parties in the parliament have failed to pursue constructive policies, instead responding to the AKP's belligerent rhetoric with their own. As a result, they have not been willing or able to reach out and gain support beyond their core constituencies.
This failure to reach out across party and societal lines prevents also the formation of a strong political bloc that could represent an alternative to the AKP's enduring hold on power. While press reports have mooted a potential bloc between the Republican People's Party (CHP) and the MHP (Nationalist Movement Party), their respective electorates are different: the CHP represents a modern, mainly "Ataturkist" and secular community, whereas the MHP harbors a more conservative and Turco-Islamic sentiment.
An alliance between the CHP and MHP could in theory be formed, but it is politically risky as it will prompt a questioning of their "representativeness" among their supporters.
In regard to the Pro-Kurdish BDP (Peace and Democracy Party), its political position depends on the outcomes of the AKP's Kurdish opening, notably the integration of Kurdish sensibilities during the drafting of the new Constitution and the implementation of Ocalan's (PKK's detained leader) aspirations. However, should the process be thwarted, this may bring about a critical rupture between it and the AKP, which can retranslate into armed violence in the South East.
While the faultlines in Turkey are nothing new, in the pre-AKP political system, guarded by the military and its judicial partners, the legal framework was formed in such a way so as to manage diverging demands. Anything that risked undermining the image of a united society, such as specific cultural, class-based, or religious demands, were thus prevented from emerging on the political agenda.
The novelty of recent developments is that these lines are now being deliberately exploited for political stakes, not only by the government but also by the opposition, a process that is occurring in parallel with the reform process that is undermining the previous securitarian political system formed to alleviate the divisions present in Turkish society.
The rising resentment between different social fractions and their political parties brings with it the attendant danger of a more polarized Turkey and ushering in an ineffective political system where political elites are unable to build consensus among diverging social demands.
Turkey needs real commitment from the major political parties for dialogue and reconciliation as a remedy against the increasing divisions. The project on a new Constitution has in this regard a very important role for the country's future and should be viewed by the political parties as an opportunity to build new bridges across political and social divides, and not to score individual party gains.
Failure to do so may see Turkey face the risk of increasing political deadlock and deepening socio-political faultlines.
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say.Please click hereif you are interested in contributing. Articles submitted for this section allow our readers to express their opinions and do not necessarily meet the same editorial standards of Asia Times Online's regular contributors.