Democratisation in Turkey
Delivered in Plenary - 20th January 2010
Turkey’s political system is sufficiently mature now to be considered a pluralist democracy. Political debate is robust and voters have a genuine choice. Moreover, Turkey is a member of the Council of Europe, which of course binds its government to common standards of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
Evidently a stable and permanent democracy is a precondition for eventual membership of the EU. There are now, however, perhaps two areas of concern.
The first is Turkey’s history of military intervention in the political process. While the army is undoubtedly an important guarantor of secularism and stability, any attempt to undermine an elected government would scupper Turkey’s EU ambitions for good.
The second concern is the dominance of the AKP in the political landscape, which leads some observers to fear the gradual development of a de facto one-party state. Provided that happens democratically we cannot object, even if some have expressed concerns about the relatively high threshold for parliamentary representation at 10% in Turkey, which of course squeezes smaller parties out of the parliamentary process.
However, the AKP’s mildly Islamist leanings also give rise to concern in the views of some, and the party’s popularity tends to indicate a fundamental paradigm shift in the nature of Turkish society. Until now the secular Kemalist tradition has served Turkey’s Euro-Atlantic leanings very well, but its gradual decline due to demographic changes would tend to indicate that those who believe in the power of Ataturk’s vision have rather taken it too much for granted. For the good of Turkish society, democracy needs to be pluralist, secular and built on a bed-rock of respect for human rights, including those of its Kurdish minorities.
One concern in addition, of course, is Turkey’s membership of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), where such common Western values as we all share in the European Union are not evident because the OIC cites Sharia law as a basis for human rights in the Islamic world. This, in my view, will also generate some serious conflicts of interest were Turkey one day to join the European Union.