The role of religion here will be a key issue at the ballot box, and so will Turkey’s relations with the outside world, our correspondent adds.
Nationalist sentiment is running high, fed by bitter disappointment with the EU. Renewed fighting with separatist Kurds and talk of an incursion into northern Iraq will also influence the result, she says.
And it is right: the role of religion will be one of the key issues in the election. Acording to Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey and of a political phylosophy called kemalism (from his own name: Kemal), the Turkish republic should be laic, and as a result, any Islamic symbol was to be considered against the republic.
For 84 years, modern Turkey has been defined by a holy trinity — the army, the republic and its founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Each was linked inextricably to the others and all were beyond reproach.
But a deep transformation is under way in this nation of 73 million, and elections this Sunday may prove a watershed: liberal Turks, once supporters of the ruling secular elite and its main backer, the military, are turning their backs on them and pledging votes to religious politicians as well as a new array of independents.
They say that the rigid rules of the last century, which prohibit women from wearing Muslim head scarves in public buildings and forbid ethnic minorities to express their identities, need to be left behind.
Something to take into account is that this will be the first time when the elections to the Presidency will be held directly, not through Parliament. The Constitutional Tribunal accepted the reform, considered unconstitutional by both the Turkish President of the Republic and the opposition:
The move, a blow for the current president and the main opposition party, paves the way for Turkey to hold direct elections for the presidency.
Both the president and main opposition party had applied to the court to annul the reforms.
They had complained that the changes were adopted in haste and threatened the country’s stability.
The ruling AKP moved to introduce a direct presidential ballot to end the standoff caused when it tried to get its own candidate, Abdullah Gul, elected president through parliament.
For an approach to the change in the Turkish minds, read JW. An excerpt:
I can imagine the fury of a well-educated, secular Turk as he reads this article by the young Sabrina Tavernise. For it is so uncomprehending of Turkish history, and of all that it took to systematically constrain Islam so that the very possibility of some modicum of reasonableness, the very development of an educated secular class, the very class that Sabrina Tavernise and all other Westerners frequent and the only class with which they feel, quite rightly, fully comfortable, came about only because of Ataturk.
If Kemalism is on the ropes, it is not because the Kemalists have been too ruthless, but because they have not been nearly ruthless enough. They did not push, relentlessly, their program after the first few decades, and some of those who followed were content to pocket the benefits of Kemalism without systematically trying to change the minds of the masses — and the masses remained largely unaffected.
Since, in any society, the primitives will always and everywhere outweigh the others, it was important that those to whom, thanks to Kemalism, the freedom to think was granted, should never have taken those freedoms for granted. Now it may be too late. Make no mistake; there is a program by those who want more and more Islam. Its proponents are patient: look at the statements about waiting for the right moment by the sweet-reasonably sinister Mr. Gulen, waiting in his Washington-area exile, for the results of the election.
Il Corriere della Sera makes a very good summary of the situation:
ANKARA – Polls opened in Tirkey, where approx 42 millions have been called to vote to renew Parliament. The vote began at 7:00 a.m. (local time) in 32 provinces of the Oriental Anratolia. In the rest of the country, they have been opened one hour later. The party in the Government, the moderate Islamists of the Justice and Development party (Akp) can achieve an absolute majority in Parliament. The opposition is leadered by the Popular Republican Party (Chp) and the Party of the Nacionalist Movement (Mhp).
CAMPAIGN – The electoral campaign has been characterized by the confrontation between the laic establishment, which proclaims itself the heir of the Republic founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, and the Islamist in the Government. The main opposition party has accused the Government’s President of being a menace to the lay character of modern Turkey, born from the disgregation of the Ottoman Empire. In the center of the political confrontation: the role of women in society: according to the critics of the Government, AKP is seeking to introduce laws according to the Islamic prescriptions.
There is another worrying thing to say about Turkey, related to the Turkish Government’s menace to invade Iraq to pursue the Kurdish terrorists of PKK. It seems Turkey has 140,000 soldiers along the border with Iraq, prompting fears of another incursion against Kurdish guerillas:
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari an ethnic Kurd himself, said his government was against any breach of Iraqi sovereignty.
He called for talks with Ankara to solve the issue.
Turkey accuses Kurdish separatists of staging attacks from inside Iraq. It has often warned Baghdad that it is prepared to take military action.
Turkey has not commented on the figure of 140,000 quoted by Mr Zebari. If the figure is accurate, Turkey would have nearly as many soldiers along its border with Iraq as the 155,000 troops which the US has in the country.
In Washington, White House spokesman Tony Snow said the US shared Turkey’s concerns but that it was “important, we think, to recognise the territorial sovereignty of Iraq”.
Mr Zebari said he understood Turkey’s “legitimate security concerns”, but said the best way to address them was by reviving the tripartite military and security commission, which involves Iraq, Turkey and the US.
I figure Turkey is wainting for the results of today’s elections. And after…
[About the Kurds, read this interesting post by Plateau. It is from an Iranian perspective but it’s interesting nevertheless].
Lastly, about the relationship between Turkey and the European Union, read here.
Oops, I forgot to link something: Is Turkey tolerant of non-Muslim religions?
The Turkish government has long failed to tackle deep-rooted discrimination against religious minorities – by refusing to guarantee their position in law or to crack down on intolerance from officials, the media and in school curricula. This has left religious minorities dangerously exposed, argues Otmar Oehring of the German Catholic charity Missio. For, as Dr Oehring observes in this personal commentary for Forum 18, hostility to religious minorities is stoked by widespread xenophobia. Following the brutal murder of three Protestants in Malatya in April, attacks on and threats against religious minorities have only increased. Official “protection” for religious minority leaders and places of worship seems designed as much to control as to protect them.
Looks like a not very good prospect to me.
Others blogging about this: Winds of Jihad.