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After football

Thursday 12 June 2008, by Nicole Pope

For a brief moment, Turkey was at peace with itself on Saturday, united by football. As I took a walk along the Bosporus in the evening, the captains of the yachts moored along the pier were all huddled around small televisions, riveted by the action on the pitch. In the elegant and expensive apartments lining the coast, large screens were also casting the tell-tale green shadow.

All was well, at least until the national team lost its game against Portugal.
Beyond their support for the national football team, Turks find plenty of reasons to disagree with each other. These days, they appear deeply divided in their understanding of what is at stake in the current political showdown. Some believe that with the closure case against the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), democracy is under threat and the country is speeding toward disaster. Others make light of the current turmoil and see it merely as a bump on a road that has produced its fair share of political potholes.

“Crisis, what crisis?” The young stockbroker I was talking to at a reception the other day clearly thought nothing out of the ordinary was going on. Yes, he admitted, Turkey was experiencing a degree of political uncertainty which had a negative effect on investments, but crisis was too strong a word. The legal process launched by the Constitutional Court would run its course, he thought, and stability would return.

Didn’t he think the court would disband the ruling party? Yes, probably. Wasn’t it likely that some of its leaders would be banned from political life? Again, quite likely. But, he noted, the said politicians would wait patiently for the ban to come to an end and would return to the political arena in due time. As for the AK Party, it would reorganize under a different name in the meantime and continue on its way. What was all the fuss about?

People who downplay the current showdown between the judicial establishment and the ruling party tend to place the blame for the stalemate squarely on the AK Party. They spend little time questioning why those who do not share the ruling party’s vision have been unable to generate a real political debate and produce alternatives that would not involve court intervention, or indeed why the headscarf can generate so much political heat.

Many people, even among those who voted for it, believe the AK Party has underperformed since the elections last July. With its strong mandate, it could have embarked on a broad reform program. Instead, it opted for a narrow approach that reinforced the polarization instead of developing a vision the country could unite behind. But while the AK Party can be faulted for squandering its capital, and might suffer the consequences in the local elections next year, the opposition clearly failed in its duty to provide alternatives that would have averted a judicial confrontation.

So far there is no sign that whatever emerges when the dust settles at the end of the current traumatic process will look any different. The battle-scarred AK Party or its successor may struggle to create a fresh outlook. On the opposition’s side, business continues as usual and despite repeated electoral defeats, the aging leadership remains unchallenged.

Contrast this with what is currently happening in the US, where after eight years of neo-conservative politics the Democratic Party has chosen Obama as its candidate, a man who promises change and is backed by a strong youth movement. Who, in Turkey, will capture the imagination of the young population and promise change? Football can provide temporary solace and the illusion of unity, but it will not guarantee the country’s long-term stability.

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Source : TDZ, 10.06.2008

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