According to several observers of the Turkish political scene, a current crisis in the nation might lead to an unprecedented success of Islamist parties, due to the fragmentation of the secular political groups and to peculiarities of the Turkish electoral system.
Long-time politician and ailing Turkish prime minister Bulent Ecevit is clinging to power and refuses to leave his position to a successor, despite his obvious inability to continue to lead the country.
On July 11, foreign minister Ismail Cem resigned. Several other ministers did the same, and a number of MPs left Ecevit’s Democratic Left Party (DSP). They founded another political party, New Turkey, under the leadership of Cem. Those developments take place in a context of an economic crisis (soaring interests rates, heavy debt), and early elections are now planned for this fall.
Interestingly, Cem has signaled that he would seek to defuse tensions around issues related to Islam which have plagued Turkish politics for years. Faithful to Kemal Ataturk’s policy, secular elites in Turkey — among them the top military and the influential National Security Council — are extremely suspicious of Muslim activism.
However, Cem has told Turkish newspaper Sabah that he intended to be tolerant of Turkish women who wear Islamic headscarves (banned for university students and public sector workers), according to the Associated Press (July 14).
Cem’s statement reflects an awareness that Islamist parties might be those who have the most to benefit from early elections. With polls showing a significant minority of voters are seeking an alternive to the current ruling parties or are undecided, such an Islamic party as the Justice and Development Party (AK) may be able to gain enough seats in parliament to have some influence.
Unsurprisingly, Ecevit has warned that AK’s possible victory would create trouble for Turkey at a time it urgently needs stability and might provoke the military to block a pro-Islamist government, as they already did in the past, according to The Scotsman (July 22).
However, in the long run, the question might rather be how far the military can prevent Islamist parties to be full participants in the political system, which might then develop into a kind of Muslim political sector similar to what Christian Democratic parties have been in the West. Several observers consider that such a development in Turkey might have a positive impact on other countries with a Muslim heritage.
— By Jean-François Mayer