Turkish referendum: Erdogan buries Atatürk
13 September 2010
In voting Yes to wide-ranging constitutional reform, the Turkish electorate has demonstrated a wish to modernise the country and seek ever closer links with the EU, even if this was not a part of the campaign agenda.
Fadi Hakura, who is a specialist on Turkey at Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London, in a recent article questioned the long and widely held view that without Europe “Turkey is unable or unwilling to become a liberal democracy.” (“European antipathy -- A rising Turkey without EU?”) His argument was that “While the European Union accession process is comatose, Turkish society is undergoing a transformation to greater democracy, secularism and socio-economic rejuvenation… Europe is committing a major error in casting Turkey aside. Turkey stands out as a real beacon of hope and inspiration to many countries, both Muslim and non-Muslim, fashioning a future relying on its own wits. For Turkey, however, a reduced dependency on the European Union will finally debunk the myth that only Europe can spur the liberalization of Turkey and, by extension, of the Arab countries of the Middle East.”
Is Hakura right? This is certain: Ottoman modernization to a great extent pursued the European model. Modernization was perceived as Westernization. Republican Turkey, in its founding stage, was inspired largely by the authoritarian modernization models in Europe (Germany, Italy and the Soviet Union). For Turkey, Western democracies became the model after the end of World War II, and the European Union after the Cold War.
The declaration of Turkey’s candidacy for EU membership in 1999 did not only lead to the liberal transformation of Turkey’s sui generis Islamist movement, but also to the formation of a very broad pro-EU coalition, which even included the armed forces. Between 2001 and 2005, constitutional and legal reforms that initiated the transition from democracy under bureaucratic tutelage to one on European norms were adopted by consensus between the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government and the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).
EU’s “soft power” over Turkey has declined considerably
Negative signals concerning Turkish accession coming out of the EU after 2005, including the argument espoused by France -- that Turkey did not belong in Europe -- led to a significant drop in popular support for EU accession. Consequently, the military and the opposition parties led by the “social democratic” CHP began fiercely resisting EU reforms. The EU’s “soft power” over Turkey, that is its capacity of setting an example, declined considerably if it was not entirely extinguished.
Turkey adopted yesterday by referendum some constitutional amendments that will mean a second giant step (following the reforms between 2001 and 2005) in the transition to becoming a liberal democracy. The reforms stipulated by the amendments are consistent with the requirements of the EU accession process. EU institutions, lead by the European Commission, have expressed their approval and support for the amendments -- declaring them to be “in the right direction.”
Support coming out of EU circles, however, seemed to have little, if any, influence on the referendum campaign. All of the main opposition parties continued to campaign against the constitutional amendments package in every way they could, with the CHP’s new leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu going as far as claiming that EU functionaries were bribed by the AKP into supporting the package. Certain oppositional circles even argued that it was necessary to reject the amendments in order to stop Turkey from being “run by Washington and Brussels.”
The spokespeople for the “yes” camp, led by the AKP government, made little reference to the EU process in defense of the package, and instead emphasized the need to put an end to the bureaucratic tutelage regime, to settle accounts with military coups and adopt the people’s constitution instead of the military’s, and continued democratization to further economic progress.