Demonstrations in Turkey

Last week (April 2007) there was a large demonstration in both Ankara the capital and in Istanbul a few days later. They estimate both crowds to have been over a million maybe two. They were against any religious influence in government and such a large outpouring seemed to have surprised the prime minister who lead the AK Party which is the majority party in parliament.

The AK party reminds me of the Democrats in Chicago during the decades of the 20’s through the 60’s when Daly was party boss. They have a large grassroots organization, they get vast numbers of volunteers (many who wear head scarves of the Islamic type) out into the streets and neighborhoods, they do a lot of social welfare stuff and so they have a large base of support among many poor, disaffected or uneducated people. They have also gotten the votes of those who, rightly, believed the previous political parties were corrupt and that it was time for a clean sweep. The AK Party, run by Tayip Erdogan the PM, has roots in Islam. In Europe and the US, they are compared by some to the Christian Democrats in Europe. In Turkey, the educated elite, the intelligentsia, and many mainstream but educated people on the street believe the AK Party wants to take the country into Islamic law much like Iran.

It was not the military who did not recognize the election. The parliament votes for the president, a largely ceremonial position since Ataturk died. The president does have veto power over the parliament and has the influence of the “bully pulpit.” The AK Party has a majority in parliament and they voted for the current foreign minister, Abdullah Gul, a party member to be president. Because a party must have 10% of the total vote or more to stand in parliament, only two parties, the AK and the CHP are in parliament this term. The AK party in the last election, six years ago, got a solid majority, but only of those two parties. Of the total vote, the AK party got about 34% which many voters say does not represent the real will of Turkey.

The law says a certain number of members of parliament must be present and vote in order for an election to be valid, they fell short by six votes. This was due to the opposition CHP party boycotting the vote. The AK party said the election was valid anyway, which in the past, has been the case. However, the CHP then asked the Supreme Court to decide if the election was valid or not. The court decided the election was invalid. Now the choice of the prime minister is to either ask for a second vote of parliament for president or to call for early general elections. If there are early general elections, which seems to be what the PM called for, the AK party may come back with an even larger majority in parliament and they will get their president anyway.

The military has a website and said they would do whatever is necessary to maintain the secular (that is not religious) nature of the government. Many have interpreted this to mean they would depose an AK party government if the president was from the same party. As you may know, the military staged three open coups in 1960, 70, 80 and told a prime minister, Erbakan, to step down in 97. Erbaken was a nut and a religious fanatic who openly said he wanted Islamic law. Erdogan and Gul were members of his party at that time. Hence, the suspicions of the military and others.

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