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Sept. 12, 2010 referendum: A turning point for what?

ySTANBUL (CyHAN)- Countries have intervals or periods in their development. Within the administrations that change states and countries, the leaders and their close circles tend to come to the forefront during these periods, but their emergence actually signifies the final link in a complicated process.

It is society that has actually changed or is changing. Societies change as they come to have higher expectations from life and their demands ensure that society moves forward in a positive direction. And there is a simple rule involved in this: People want to lead a good life. They want to be dignified, secure and prosperous. They are concerned about their children; for most parents, the future of their children is more valuable than their own lives, and this is the basic drive behind what society expects from the future.

Parents are not satisfied with the current status; they are also worried about the conditions in which their children will live when they grow older. Consequently, societies are concerned about themselves and their future generations over a wider time spectrum, and they expect the politicians in office to prove that their policies cover the same range. This is the very reason why transient or populist policies are not favored by the public except when society is manipulated or going through hard times. Accordingly, the policy-makers who implement propaganda-based or palliative projects or policies that cannot satisfy the society's current or future needs cannot secure much support from the public and they are destined to command only a marginal vote. Times of war and chaos are exceptions. Indeed, at such times, society is convinced that the makers of normal policies have failed and people start to act based on fear rather than reason due to deteriorating public security. The times when dictatorships and fascism are on the rise coincide with the times when civilization hits rock bottom. Fascism and dictatorships emerge as a result of lack of alternatives or options, which lead to desperation.

Along these lines, it can be argued that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) came to power not solely with the backing of religious groups, but also with support of other sociological factions. The number of votes it initially secured on Nov. 3, 2002, increased tremendously in the elections held on July 22, 2007, and June 12, 2011, which proves the foregoing analysis to be true. The party had the ability to get the support of one out of every two people in Turkey. No one can claim that such a colossal electoral support concentration implies a monolithic voter base. Such a claim is always false. The sociological diversity of voters is infinite. The time that the AK Party secured 50 percent of the national vote, this sociological diversity was at its peak.

The key to comparisons

Like in any other state or society, Turkey's case is unique and any attempted comparison should be very meticulous. Therefore, comparisons should be narrowed down to certain times and conditions. For instance, Turkey's modernization is comparable to the Russian and Japanese modernizations, but only during specific periods of the 19th century. But you can never conclude that the future development of these countries will be based on these similarities. This is because every society or state produces a unique mental template or set of experiences within its own historical perspective. Turkey, too, has its specific history and circumstances. The Mohammed Morsi era in Egypt can be likened to the process in which the AK Party came to power and implemented reforms in Turkey. And there are already authors who draw on that analogy. But Egypt will never go through the same process as Turkey. For this reason, when Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoy-an suggested that Arab nations may adopt Turkish-style secularism, it sounded very irrelevant and I was among those who criticized it. Arab nations will establish their unique states based on what is right for them. What matters here is if this happens democratically in line with popular demand, and is built upon a broad national consensus.

Democracy does not have a single definition. Perhaps, it is safer to argue that whether democracy is possible -- i.e., the conditions allowing the public to decide its destiny are there -- is divorced from what the products produced by the decisions of the public will be.

Several standards may be proposed for democracy and they can even be made universal. While even this is disputable, it is a basic criterion for democracy that there should not be a superior power that meddles with the process in which popular will is reflected in parliament with the highest degree of diversity. But, after this is ensured, you cannot standardize the decisions of citizens as to what sort of country they would like to live in. If you do, this means making the same mistake as colonialists.

Of course, rights and preferences of minorities pose problems even in the most advanced democracies. In other words, I am not suggesting this: "The majority's preferences are always unique and valuable. The majority's preferences should be indisputable." That is not my proposition. At this point, countries are expected to stick to the rules of international law and to recognize the rules of international umbrella organizations that protect democratic rights, and to put in place a smoothly functioning justice system. The protection of minorities is a universal problem, and in this context, attachment to universal organizations is the biggest assurance for countries. Already, those countries which are able to make their minorities happy are ranking high on the democracy scale.

Confidence stemming from electoral wins

Between 2002 and 2010, Turkey went through a unique and specific stretch of time. With the referendum held on Sept. 12, 2010, to endorse several constitutional amendments, I believe, this reform process ended and the AK Party's bid to drive the reforms was terminated. Essentially, an eight-year fast-paced reform period per se is a big achievement for a political party. The reason for this is that Turkey has been misgoverned by Kemalist elites who would treat popular demands as threats. The demands which were long suppressed with human rights violations eventually produced a powerful people's party in line with the public's expectations. This was inevitable. The high level of legitimacy with which the AK Party was vested enabled the party to move forward with the public's demands for a long period of time. Coup attempts and other anti-democratic methods tried by the powerful Kemalist tutelary powers between 2002 and September 12, 2010 paradoxically helped the AK Party to do this. Indeed, the AK Party didn't have the luxury to make mistakes or act arbitrarily while it was fighting a life-and-death war against the tutelage regime.

However, the referendum undermined the pro-coup judicial bureaucracy, saving the AK Party from this threat. Then, the 50 percent election victory on June 12, 2011 bought the AK Party freedom and self-confidence. It is no coincidence that the party's decline started after this date. Everyone is confused and unhappy, but this is no surprise.

In a short time, the state has changed hands to a great extent, although not completely. The military has been extensively rehabilitated. The co-optation of the judiciary has been undermined. I am in no position to argue that all the changes have been implemented perfectly, and without fault. But compared to where we started, we are currently in a better position.

Loss of reformism

Today, we see, the party is not willing to implement any reform and does not care about the new constitution. This last year has been rife with failures. Yet the party's stagnation does not correspond to the magnitude of the public's demands. The public still cannot imagine why the reforms have ended. Meanwhile, I should note that while it has been fighting the tutelage system, the AK Party has been able to manage the country's economy quite well, and it has brought relief to the public's concerns over health policies and wages. No one will vote for a party solely for its reforms. The public's main priority is welfare and there is nothing wrong with this. A ruling party that can manage all this in a balanced manner will be able to establish a political tradition, and strong, long-lasting, established parties are created in this way.

We cannot know when the AK Party's complacency and exhaustion will end. It appears to me that only a very radical reform move can save them from this deadlock. Yet, the public will not be happy with those politicians who delay in responding to their demands at will. The public will certainly tame the ruling party. A smart politician should know this well. If the public's demands are postponed for long, the public will trigger a new reform process, and also create the actors necessary to make the reforms happen. This is categorically true.

MARKAR ESAYAN (Cihan/Today's Zaman) CyHAN

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Publication:Cihan News Agency (CNA)
Date:Sep 8, 2012
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