Why Turkey’s liberals criticize the AK Party

Liberals who supported the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) in the past have increasingly become critical of the party and its rule. This appears to the AK Party leadership as a case of disloyalty and to the opposition as a vindication of their stand against the AK Party.

For those who really want to understand the liberal critiques of the AK Party, here is the clue. On Oct. 11, 2007, my column was titled “Limits of liberal support for the AK Party.” Let’s look at it again and we will start to understand the recent disenchantment of liberals with the AK Party.

“Embracing liberal values has certainly gained sympathy and even support for the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) among liberal circles. Continuation of this, however, depends on the performance of the AK Party in some crucial policy areas.

“Most important of all is the EU process. Liberals attach great importance to a speedy integration with the EU, viewing the process as a unique opportunity to establish and consolidate a working market economy, full democracy and a universal standard for human rights in Turkey. While the AK Party government was hailed as the starter of negotiations earned with courageous political reforms, it was also heavily criticized for slowing down the reform process afterwards. To see the continued commitment of the AK Party to the membership and its corollary political reforms is the key to the liberal support. What is expected from the AK Party in this post-election period and with the renewed mandate is to energize the reform process and press hard for concluding the negotiations. If the AK Party seems unenthusiastic about EU membership, the bases of the liberal-democrat-conservative coalition will crumble. Without an EU membership perspective that generates a broad progressive coalition, the AK Party will commit political suicide: It will either submit to or be defeated by the pro-status quo powers.

“Protection and promotion of human rights for all is another key policy area on which the AK Party should perform well in order to keep the support of the liberals. This requires a notion of protection of the rights and liberties of all citizens without falling into the trap of ‘majoritarian’ democracy. Protection of minority views, lifestyles and beliefs is part and parcel of a liberal democracy. Any deviation from this will turn the liberals against the AK Party.

“The AK Party cannot refrain from taking steps to materialize full democracy. If the AK Party looks ready to compromise on the principles of liberal democracy, including a proper form of civil-military relationship, it should forget about liberal support. The appearance of the AK Party negotiating with bureaucracy — with a result that sustains tutelage democracy — will certainly alienate the liberals. In this context, not to take a step back from making a new liberal constitution is a test case for the AK Party.

“Another issue area that is important for liberals is the Kurdish question and the issues of ethnic and religious diversity. If the AK Party falls into the trap, as pushed by the state bureaucracy, of pursuing a homogenizing national policy toward the Kurds and other ethnic and religious identities, it cannot count on the support of the liberals. In order to make peace with the civilian and military bureaucracy the AK Party may be tempted to play ‘tough’ on the Kurdish issue and ‘soft’ on political reforms. Both will strip the AK Party off its reformist and civilian characteristics.

“Another sine qua non of liberal sympathy for the AK Party is the expectation that the AK Party fight against radical nationalism, not only in Turkey but within itself. This is the soft belly of the AK Party. I think liberals are aware of the presence of the statist/nationalist pull within the party… The party leadership is capable of taming nationalism, but instead, if it falls victim to radical nationalism, it will lose its reformist stand. Once this happens the AK Party will dissolve into the state and status quo just like its opponents. This would be the end of a reformist party and the end of the liberal/democrat/conservative coalition.

“It is clear that the AK Party will face its greatest opposition ever if it is seen as abandoning the objectives of building full democracy and pursuing the EU membership. These two broad objectives constitute the very basis of the liberal, democrat, conservative alliance…”

Think of each and every issue I raised five years ago: the EU, a new constitution, the danger of majoritarian democracy, respect for minority views, values and lifestyles, the Kurdish question, tendency for radical nationalism…

So, from a liberal point of view, why not now criticize the AK Party?

Today’s Zaman, 30.12.2012

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