Turkey’s Democratic Dilemma

In a WPR piece about the aftermath of Turkey’s Constitutional Court decision that spared the ruling AKP party while imposing financial penalties, Jonas Clark writes that the episode, by demonstrating how out of touch the secularist old guard is with popular sentiment, might provide Turkey with a chance to define a more relevant, contemporary secularism:

Caught between these two poles — Islamism and Kemalist secularism — Turkey has yet to stake out a coherent middle way. But a slightly chastened AKP may very well undertake such a course. Instead of waging polarizing and fierce ideological battles that threaten to destabilize its democratic foundations, the party now has an opportunity for constructive engagement.

Judging by this rundown of reaction in the Turkish press, that’s certainly the consensus across the Turkish political spectrum. It’s also what PM Erdogan has committed himself to doing, with priorities including amending Turkey’s constitution in cooperation with the opposition party (as opposed to drafting a new one), and continuing democratic and human rights reforms with an eye towards the EU accession process.

Still, as Kerim Balci at Today’s Zaman (admittedly a pro-government paper) pointed out, there’s something troubling about the way in which the ruling, which because it fell short of the outright closure that people were expecting, is being portrayed as a victory for democracy, when by its very nature it represents a “normalization of the undemocratic”:

The decision of the Constitutional Court reminded the AK Party that it is in the governmental positions not because it is supported by a majority of the nation but because the state allows it to be so.

The AKP has been quick to accept the “red lines” handed down by the Court, which means that it is out of the woods for the time being. The question is whether Turkish democracy is, too.