Turkey: Who’s Checking Erdoğan?
In a July 30 television address, Erdoğan reaffirmed his promise to replace the country’s constitution, which was written by its military rulers in 1982. “The new constitution should be drafted with the largest participation possible, and should be a consensus that will meet the demands of the whole society, and that it should be democratic and liberal without shortcomings,” he asserted
With the resignation of the Turkish Army’s leadership, Erdogan has successfully concentrated political power in the office of the Prime Minister, and by extension strengthened his party (AKP). Future developments will be interesting on at least two major fronts; the writing of a new constitution and Turkey’s role in regional politics.
A new constitution, despite his fervent statements to the contrary (as quoted above), is likely to be reflective of the AKP’s social conservatism and slightly Islamic bent. Turkey is in no danger of becoming an “Islamic Republic”, or of replacing the legal system with full sharia law. However, redrafting the constitution is not coincidentally following the removal of the “watchdog” military leadership, which had always seen itself as a guarantor of secularism. I expect a blurring of the line between mosque and state. But as a NATO member and with the dream of EU membership still not fully extinguished, the AKP and the clergy will not dare go too far.
Regional politics have seen a resurgent Turkey stake out a role for itself as a lynchpin in relations with Syria and Iran. Ongoing sparring with Israel gives Ankara the regional street cred needed to take on a role previously held by Egypt, namely that of a regional power with close ties to both West and East that can act as a broker between the Muslim and Western worlds. The need to participate in global power politics sits deep in the psyche of the heirs to the Ottoman Empire.
The next 12 months will be crucial in Turkey’s development. I anticipate heavy courtship by the Russians, Chinese and Americans on the economic front. Militarily, the situation is somewhat more complicated, unless Turkey decides to leave NATO. This is a possibility, albeit a very slight one in the medium term. Turkey is much more interested in becoming an economic heavyweight and regional power broker than in throwing their lot in with Russia (too scary and close) or China (too foreign and anti-religion). It will require a great deal of hard work by Europeans and Americans to keep Turkey in the fold as it spreads its wings over the next few years.