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August 2012

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Turkey: The Ruling Party's Transition Strategy (free to nonsubscribers)
Reviewed by Ambassador Michael Cotter

Although Turkey receives a good bit of attention in Western media, most of it is focused on the country’s growing role as a regional power and, to a lesser extent, the Justice and Development Party government’s efforts to reduce the power of the Turkish military. This article, from the analytical firm STRATFOR, is freely available publicly at the above link. It highlights important developments in Turkey’s internal political situation that deserve wider circulation.

The article leads off with a discussion of the impact of the recent decision to abolish the special courts, which have been used to target Kurdish terrorists and alleged plotting by elements within the Turkish military. But its focus is on what the article’s author calls “leadership and political system transitions” within the ruling Justice and Development Party. He identifies a “crisis” that stems from provisions in the Party’s bylaws that members cannot serve more than three consecutive terms in parliament, which mean that some 73 senior party members, including the prime minister, the vice prime minister, the deputy prime minister responsible for the economy, and the speaker of parliament will be ineligible to run for re-election in 2015.

While the Party’s origins lie in a broad swath of Turkish society, its bulwark has always been conservative middle- and lower-class Muslims. The STRATFOR analyst suggests that transitioning to a younger generation of Party members will create problems. Although the article doesn’t specify the reason, it is most likely that the younger generation will be more Islamist and thus likely to alienate other parts of Turkish society.

PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan is, according to the article, already engaged in several efforts to circumvent the bylaws issue. One is to persuade senior politicians from outside the party to join it and assume leadership positions. Another, much more significant one, is to transition the political system from a parliamentary to a presidential form, under which a President Erdogan could preside over and control a prime minister and cabinet of younger cadres.

The main thrust of the article focuses on the difficulty of achieving the second option, which would require a constitutional amendment. The author discusses the ways in which the Justice and Development Party might achieve that goal. Interestingly, the author doesn’t mention modifying the party bylaws as an option, leaving unclear whether the omission is his or whether President Erdogan has reasons for not considering it.

The author then ties his introductory discussion of the abolition of the special courts to PM Erdogan’s efforts to court Turkey’s large Kurdish population and to improve relations with the military, both of which he believes are critical to achieving the Party’s goal of transitioning Turkey to a presidential system of government.bluestar

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