AKP won’t adopt authoritarian rule out of fear of losing votes

AKP won’t adopt authoritarian rule out of fear of losing votes

Hürriyet Daily News
AKP won’t adopt authoritarian rule out of fear of losing votes

The press was never free in Turkey and the problem of press freedom does not stem from the stance of the ruling party but from its distorted structure, according to Can Paker, head of of prominent tink tankDAILY NEWS photos, Emrah GÜREL

The new middle class that brought the Justice and Development Party (AKP) to power wants welfare and freedom, which is the reason why it has no choice but to democratize, if wants to remain in power, according to the head of a leading think tank. External dynamics will not allow the AKP to slide toward authoritarian rule, added Can Paker.

The ups and downs in the democratization process stem from the rookie nature of the AKP, which is the first civilian government to ever take power in Turkey, said Paker, the head of the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV).

Do you share the concerns that the AKP is sliding into the anti-democratic mentality of the 1990s?

I don’t. Turkey has undergone a tremendous transformation since the 1990s because society has changed. Turkey is rapidly transforming from a peasant society into a middle-class society. There is an entrepreneurial class emerging in Anatolia and an emerging middle class around it. Becoming middle class means becoming different. Differentiation brings with it demands for freedom. The 50 percent that the AKP got [in the 2011 elections] is the votes of this emerging middle class.

These masses voted for the AKP with the hope that it would provide them with welfare and freedoms. That’s why there is no going back from a sociological point of view. Backtracking will cause the ruling party to lose votes.

The reason for the ups and downs is that Turkey has been a country where policies were shaped by military/civilian bureaucracy for the past 85 years while only the management of the economy was left to those elected. All elected parties, including the AKP in the 2000s, were in the opposition instead of the government. A fundamental change started recently by which the military/civil bureaucracy is losing its political influence; those elected are no longer in the opposition but in the political government. There are problems but they are learning as well to be in government.

Due to the difference between being in the government and in the opposition, while [the AKP] used to oppose what the old military/civil bureaucracy used to do, it can’t oppose this now because it is itself in the government. Now that it owns the government, it is not critical even if it sees its mistakes. But it will lose votes if it does not implement individual liberties.

As the AKP has assumed control of the center of power, many believe it is showing the reflexes of the parties of the old establishment.

But old parties were never in the government. This is the first time civilians are in the government. That’s the difference.

But then, as the famous saying goes, power corrupts, while absolute power corrupts absolutely. Has the AKP become drunk on power?

I would call it being a rookie in power since it is the first time civilians are in control of the government.

Even if they are rookies, aren’t they showing the old reflexes, such as on the Kurdish issue?

Until recently, the Kurdish issue was managed by the military. It is the first time that the civilian government is handling the issue. It is a very complex issue and they bear the difficulties as rookies in shouldering all the responsibilities.

As TESEV, we said last year that the solution to the problem is found in talking to the other side. We learned later that they had apparently already started talking. This is what I understand of what happened: When the process had reached a certain point of agreement, it [the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)] made a deadly attack and disrupted the process. As a result, the government decided to first weaken it and then sit and talk to it. The government said: “They will not sit at the table. Then I need to weaken them.” But no government in Turkey can say I will solve the Kurdish issue through military means. So it seems to me that the government endorsed a new strategy.

But it seems that the democratic dimension of the new strategy has become very ineffective.

Yes, there is a lot to do on that dimension.

Do you think they will also remain loyal to the democratic dimension?

The opposite would be irrational. The government sees that it can’t stay in power if it does not solve the Kurdish problem.

But looking at the arrests in the KCK case, which is focusing on the PKK’s alleged urban wing, one has the feeling that the AKP has given up the democratic dimension

It does give that feeling. But looking from the AKP’s perspective, let’s not forget that some among the KCK are closely linked with the PKK. So the government wants to start talking after it weakens all links to the PKK. I can only guess that they will take that [democratization] course because it needs to do so to remain in power. The opposite would not be rational.

What makes you say that the AKP will endorse your rational outlook? Turkish political history is full of parties that disappeared due to irrational policies.

The big difference is that for the first time a party that needs votes to stay in government is in power. The military/civil bureaucracy did not have to get votes from the people.

But previous political parties did need to get votes.

But they did not have the government.

So you are saying we are experiencing the growing pains of becoming civilianized?

Exactly. I do not mean to say that the AKP is a rookie; it’s the first civilian government in power, so it is the rookie nature of the first civilian government.

The Uludere incident, in which smugglers thought to be terrorists were bombed, was seen as proof that the AKP was now supporting the army – which it has been so critical of in the past – because the armed forces were now under its control.

This is partly true. The government [can] stand behind the army now that it controls it. Uludere was a big mistake. The government called the families one by one and they will be paid compensation. I don’t mean to say that the government should get away with compensation. But if civilians were not in power, do you think the families would have been called and gotten compensation? The government does so because it needs votes.

In short, you do not see the AKP sliding toward authoritarianism?

Why should it become authoritarian? It will cost it votes.

You said the new middle class wants welfare and liberties. Some argue that it only wants welfare and is less sensitive about liberties.

If the middle class is hopeful for the future, then it is democratic, liberal and a supporter of liberties. It becomes fascist if it lacks hope for the future. The Turkish middle class is hopeful of the future and that’s why it will continue to ask for freedoms. Let’s not forget that despite the personal input and charisma of the foreign minister and the prime minister, it is the demand of the new middle class that is behind Turkey’s influence in the region. This new class wants to do business with all parts of the world.

But how does this class express its demand for freedoms?

We are still at the beginning. Think how Europe took so long to reach democracy. But Turkey will not wait that long. You will lose the government if you curb freedoms. The AKP is very afraid that it will be criticized for restricting freedoms.

How can you say that when it is accused of putting so much pressure on the press?

The press was not free in the past either. The problem of press freedom is not about the policy of the party but about the structure of the press. So long as the press owners have commercial interests, a solution to the problem will be difficult.

But that should not keep us from criticizing the government as it prefers to profit from the bad structure of the press instead of correcting it.

Let’s continue to criticize. But I analyze the events according to the dynamic of their evolution. If under instruction from the army the press portrays the AKP as fundamentalists and through fake documents advocates that political parties can be closed down, then there will be a reaction – you will see it creating its own media. It is only natural that the reflex of self-protection continues. But if there is pressure in the press, this cannot continue forever. Society will not accept that for long.

There is also severe criticism about the judiciary as well.

The judiciary was one of the important elements of the military/civil bureaucracy. Now it is changing. Some say it is coming under the control of the AKP. Again, society will not let that happen.

How do you evaluate the judicial outcome in the case of slain Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink?

It shows us the situation of the military/civil bureaucracy and how it is changing. The president, prime minister and justice minister all objected to the decision. Why? Because society wants them to talk like that.

But part of this society objected to the motto, “We are all Hrant, we are all Armenian.”

We are in a transformational phase. When the water turns to ice at zero degrees Celsius, you have both water and ice, which both stem from the same chemical formula. [Both realities exist] at the same time at the point where it comes from the past and the point where it goes to the future. The two extremes can coexist at the same time during the transformation phase.

It seems that liberals have been withdrawing their support from the AKP.

Liberals have some doubts about the AKP. But my answer is look to the dynamics of society; the AKP has no other choice but to democratize. Another important factor is the outside dynamics. During the Cold War, it did not matter whether Turkey was democratic or not. This is no longer the case.


A liberal who says he still uses marxist terminology in his sociological analyses, Can Paker is a prominent opinion leader that is known to the public for his civil society activities as well as successful business career.

He is currently the chairman of the board the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV), and he was the chairman of the board of Open Society Institute’s Istanbul branch from 2002, until last year.

He is special Ambassador of Turkey in EU matters as well as the chairman of the disciplinary Committee of the Association of Turkish Industrialists and Businessmen’s Association (TÜSIAD).

He was awarded the executive of the year in 1990, 1994 and 1996 by TÜSIAD. A graduate of Germany’s Technical University Berlin, Paker has a masters in business administration from Columbia University, New York.

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