Turkey is Typing…Presidential Protests

As the Turkish Presidential race begins to gear up, the Republic of Turkey once again finds itself torn between the ideals of a secularist or Islamist state. This week was marked by protests and editorial after editorial of speculation about the future of Turkey and whether the ideals of democracy will survive the next election.

Let's begin with the presidential calendar given to us by Erkan's Field Diary:

Candidacy applications started today. The presidential calendar:

April 16: Candidacy applications begin.

April 17: PM Erdoğan meets political party leaders, convenes his cabinet.

April 18: AKP's Central Executive Board (MKYK) convenes.

April 25: deadline for candidacy applications.

April 26: Parliament Speaker Arınç proposes two alternative dates for election tours. According to the first alternative the first tour will start on April 26. According to the constitution the second tour is scheduled for May 1, third tour May 8 and final tour May 15.

May 3: The second alternative is to start on May 3 followed by the second tour on May 7, third tour on May 11 and the final tour on May 15. In these first two rounds of voting, in order to be elected president a candidate must receive support of at least three-fifths of the total 550 seats of the unicameral legislation, 367 votes.

May 16: Presiden Sezer completes his seven year term. The hand over ceremony takes place.

It is generally accepted that PM Tayyip Erdogan will run for the presidency, and with him a new wave of Islamist government will control the Republic of Turkey. Even though presidential speculation is nothing new to those familiar with Turkish politics, the heated discussion of secularism vs. Islam has come to a head. Founded on the principles of Kemalism which stressed a secular state, modern Turkey's history has plagued with the issue of Islamic rule. In fact the Turkish military has intervened in the form of a coup on more than one occasion to keep to the tenets of Kemalism. The White Path sums up the debate well:

First one needs to understand where this debate comes from. Anyone who follows Turkish politics will note that there are circles within Turkey who think that secularism is the outmost principle and democracy can well be sacrificed for its sake. This means that, for example, if people elect a parliament and government that is not secular enough, the Turkish Armed Forces can stage a coup. Or softer measures can be used, such as the usurpation of political power by the judiciary and other bureaucratic institutions. (And when I say “not secular enough,” I don't mean an Islamism such as that of the Taliban; in Turkey a wife with a headscarf is simply enough of a heresy according to the standards of official illiberal secularism.)

However there are other proponents of secularism in Turkey, including myself, who think that secularism is only meaningful when it is supplemented by democracy. These people also note that it is not a danger to secularism if people with deeply rooted religious beliefs come to power. This view is generally referred to as the “liberal secularism,” whose adherents generally don't see any problem with Prime Minister Erdoğan and his government with respect to the “principles of the republic.”

On the 14th of April, the debate came to a physical manifestation–a pro-secular protest staged in the country's capital of Ankara. Spooky Sense by Garfucius explains:

there was a huge rally protesting the premier's rather inarticulate desire and ambition to become president this weekend in the capital. according to reports, the tandoğan square in ankara, just a stone's throw from atatürk's mausoleum, the anıtkabir, turned into a “sea of flags” while hundreds of thousands declared fealty to the republican ideal of secularism.

the moderate and hardline pro-islamic pro-government front contended, rather than through counter-rallies, by verbally denouncing and decrying the secularists’ assembly and hanging posters, banners etc. that urged national will as reflected in parliament to prevail in electing the head of state.

Estimates of the crowd at the protest in Ankara are 300,000 to 1 million, but it would be foolish to predict that an Islamist government would not take control of Turkey judging just by the numbers of protesters. Even so, optimism is high, as demonstrated by Ignore Me If You Can, who says that she lives in a country that…

Stands up for its beliefs. Where thousands of people from all over Turkey gather to become one, to make sure that their voice is heard. To make sure that the message is sent all around the world; “Turkey is a secular country and will stay secular, thanks to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk”. We will not let religious zealots take that away from us. 14th of April was a historical day for this nation. I am proud to be part of this country.

Needless to say, Turkey is in for a wild ride in the next month.

*Thumbnail photo credit to ckindel.

4 comments

  • Mr. Bora Kanber

    I felt the need to mention some essential points here to correct many misunderstandings existing in this article – as a personal contribution to the subject:

    1-

    “As the Turkish Presidential race begins to gear up, the Republic of Turkey once again finds itself torn between the ideals of a secularist or Islamist state.”

    The Republic of Turkey has never found itself torn between ideals of a secularist or Islamist state. Since its beginning it has always been a secular state. This is one of its state principles for which any opposite way cannot be proposed even by any elected member of the parliament and this has been assured by the constitution. This has never changed in its 87 years of history.

    2-

    “..between the ideals of a secularist or islamist state.”

    “Islamist state” may have been an ideal of a certain kind of poeple, but secular state is not an ideal but it is a constitutional, legal and practical reality in Turkey.

    3-

    “…whether the ideals of democracy will survive the next election.”

    Whether it will survive or not is not about the ideals of democracy, but the democracy itself, since what exists in Turkey is not an ideal of democracy, but democracy itself. The ideals of democracy can be concerned for the people of middle east maybe, since they don’t have it, but just its ideal at most today.

    4-

    “Founded on the principles of Kemalism which stressed a secular state, modern Turkey’s history has plagued with the issue of Islamic rule.”

    Kemalism is an adopted term made by political thinkers long after the birth of the country to weaken the main principles on democracy and secularity and to narrow them into an ideology, since as long as it is percieved as an ideology it would be thought as on the same level with other ideologies one of which could be islamism, by this way certain kind of people hoped to bring islamism into the same level of thought with secularity in Turkey. But secularity in Turkey started at the very beginning as one of three main principles together with republic and democracy, much before naming the term Kemalism. It has been aimed to make it seem-so that secularity is just an idea stressed by an ideology, not an essential founding principle of the state, on the contrary secularity has ever indeed been one of the main founding principles in Turkey which can never be degrade into a proposition of an ideology.

    The term “modern Turkey” is meaningless, since there has never been ever any other Turkey then this one which exists since 1920. The country which existed before called Ottoman Empire, not Turkey, and if it was called as Turkey buy other countries, it was not more then a shortcut and it was also literally wrong.

    The history of Turkey has never been plagued with issue of islamic rule. One can only talk about the issue of the political attempts by a certain kind of minority in Turkey which aimed to make the way of the state islamic since the start of the country. A minority which got the governmental power lately by the strong support of the so-called western/democratic/secular countries. But islamic or any religious rule has never been any issue of Turkey, not also today.

    5-

    “In fact the Turkish military has intervened in the form of a coup on more than one occasion to keep to the tenets of Kemalism.”

    The military organized 3 actions so far, at 1961, 1972 and 1980 and none of them was about secularity / islamism conflict and none of them was related to any issue which can be put under Kemalism. The details can be found in many historical/political research publications.

    6-

    “…secularism is the outmost principle and democracy can well be sacrificed for its sake…if people elect a parliament and government that is not secular enough…”

    The case in Turkey now has nothing to do with this. The existing government had never exposed its non-secular and non-demaocratic aims, and if it exposed that, it could in no case be elected, that’s why, by knowing this, they never put on the table any discussion related to these subjects when they were elected, but they always mentioned their direction of EU accession and democracy. They still never directly mean such things, but after 4 years from their deeds so far everything is obvious. So, in this case, if a political party has a hidden agenda and if it tells lies to people to be elected and they act according to that hidden agenda, it is very well normal that this is a security hack regarding all the nation which can require a military action since it has been done against the nation. If the nation, the people knew their aims and elected them by knowing the truth, according to democracy one could say that if people want to be governed by the religious rule they should be able to elect having it, which was not the case.

    7-

    “…it is not a danger to secularism if people with deeply rooted religious beliefs come to power…”

    The fight is not related to the personal beliefs of government members today, nobody is critisizing the government or any member of the government because of their personal religious belifs. I think this is quite clear, requiring no more explanation.

    8-

    “…there was a huge rally protesting the premier’s rather inarticulate desire and ambition to become president this weekend in the capital…”

    Thinking that the reaction was only against the presidency of Mr. Erdogan is totally underestimating and misunderstanding what happened. The reaction was against those certain kind of people who insistantly try to convert the country into a religious dogmatism against the general public of the country and the essential principles of state.

    9-

    “Estimates of the crowd at the protest in Ankara are 300,000 to 1 million,…”

    The population there was over 1 million and at the same hours in all cities in Turkey people put flags to their windows to support the movement – these have never been reported by the media, and the government pressed all media to not to give this information publicly – but lies can never live long. But at least the world-wide media does not know the real picture.

    Best regards

  • Mr. Bora Kanber

    I made a mistake on military action dates, i was a kind of tired when I wrote the message yesterday. The exact dates of military actions in Turkey: 27 May 1960, 12 March 1971 and 12 September 1980. The one in 1971 was not in the form of military movement but it was a note given to the government. The others were actions done by directly soldiers.

    Sorry for the mistake.

    Regards

  • Why is it then despite the (millions of) people ‘protesting,’ AKP, the ruling party leads in the popular polls to win the next election?

    Do you think it’s fair for (the generals) to change the rules of the game if the outcome is one that we/they do not like?

    Is there really Democracy in Turkey? Or is Turkey a Republic? Do we know the difference?

  • Mr. Bora Kanber

    The criteria comes with election, not popular polls. Apperantly poll questiones are asked to certain people. This is a well known deed of this government. If popular polls are right, ok then, in an election the truth shows up. If popular polls show the truth, why AKP party does not take the decision of election? It would come with a greater power in that case and no such fights would find a chance to happen.

    While in such a case the any government would take election decision in all countries in todays world, why does not this AKP government take that decision?

    Democracy does not work with polls, it works with elections!!!

    When AKP got its government power it had never given any sign to what it has done since 4 years on the way of radical religious conversion attempts. Is this democracy or republic?

    People now know very well their aim, and they will lose dramatically in an election, thats why they cannot take election decision.

    You are talking about converting and forcing people to live under religious rule although they (big majotiry) are against it. Are you sure you are really talking about democracy?

    A country, its organizations, its people take all necessary actions to protect itself against external invaders as well as internal invaiders. As long as a people is against a life style (in this case ideologic religious life style) and an ideology, forcing it to accept that is fascism, invasion and it has nothing to do with democracy.

    I also observe very surprisingly how all world media and world governments are in favor of using instruments of democracy to constitue a religious fascism, by giving support to this government against its people’s will. History will very well remember this.

    For us; don’t worry. Islamic sheriat can enter to U.S.A to Germany to UK to France etc… but never and ever to Turkey as long as we millions live in it. Who wants to take the country should come and kill us. But yes, I know, not easy, it was tried 90 years ago.

    Turkey is the most non-muslim country in the world and you all will watch this. Then your children will ask you how you could tell lies about Turkey to your people years and years, and you will have to answer, and then we will watch this.

    Maybe you don’t know the difference as well as you don’t know the meanings of the concepts of democracy and republic, but we know it perfectly, we got it by our blood, by death of half of the nation 90 years ago. And in case of a threat coming from anywhere, we die again for it.

    No party having hidden non-democratic and religious agendas can pretend democracy in Turkey, even if all the countries and international political powers support it. In Turkey people decide, I am not sure in other countries.

    But wait, today is 29 april 2007, it is 14:35 at the moment. And millions came together in Istanbul to protest AKP.

    Poor world powers and media now announce : “actually these sinfull cities (Ankara and Istanbul) are like this, otherwise rest of Turkey is very religious as we have been informing everybody so far” – you all will see my friends. Because, until AKP goes, these rallies will be repeated in all cities. As Ataturk did 90 years ago by going to avary city in anatolia those days.

    Today 2 million people are here in the rally (for now), in any other country could such a thing happen for any subject?

    Who was talking about democracy?

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