Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Oriental belly dancing

Politics proceed under the increasing threat of provocations and havoc. An attack in Samsun on Monday targeting Ahmet Türk, the former leader of the banned Democratic Society Party (DTP), not only showed how vulnerable and exposed Kurdish figures are in certain parts of Anatolia, but also how easily the hidden tensions of the Kurds might escalate, as yesterday’s events in Hakkari remind us.
As Selahattin Demirtaş, the leader of the DTP’s successor, the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), pointed out in an interview with the Milliyet daily: “At the end of 10 months [since the announcement of the ‘Kurdish initiative’], Kurds felt more deeply like ‘the other,’ and Turks felt more deeply ‘in danger.’ Kurds lost some more hope, while Turks became a little more nationalistic.”
It is only natural that when expectations are raised about solutions to bleeding, age-old issues, they will cause frustration when one does not display a determination on how to proceed. The slower the process, the more confused the minds, the more fragile the society, making it an easy target of provocations. It is a good sign that Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli is trying to calm the tension. But much more will be needed on this specific issue. It is now up to both the government and the BDP to keep things under control on both ends.

Remarkably, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) leadership has been very “low key” in joining efforts to cool down nerves. This may be explained in various ways, but one reason might be sought in the party’s last minute attempts to be proactive in the process of taking the reform package to Parliament. In a sharp twist, CHP leader Deniz Baykal chose to come to the fore with a proposal that later changed shape. At first glance, Baykal’s idea looked sound and reasonable: He told the press that some 27 articles of the package are eventually to be supported by his party, that he was ready to “cooperate” if the Justice and Development Party (AKP) separated three articles (on party closures and the structural changes to the Constitutional Court as well as the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors [HSYK]) as an item to be voted on separately in Parliament’s General Assembly.

But before even a proper debate took place, Baykal suddenly changed gears, asking the government to suspend talks on the three articles until after the next national elections. He neither elaborated on whether the CHP would guarantee passage of those 27 articles in the General Assembly nor excluded the possibility that, if the three articles were also passed, the CHP would take the package to the Constitutional Court for annulment. But, he said he was ready to talk with Erdoğan, if necessary.

What made this statement remarkable was that its timing coincided with a threat by HSYK Deputy Chairman Kadir Özbek, who implied that a “collective resignation” can become reality (if the AKP insists on amendments regarding the high judiciary). The perception is that the CHP has fully shouldered the cause of the status-quo for the Third Estate.

It may very well be. But there is more to be analyzed about the manners of the main opposition. Why has it waited so long to inject this proposal? Why did Baykal then insist obstinately that he would never even talk reform with a party “which had been declared a focal point of anti-secular activity” by the top court?

First, the CHP has realized that the likelihood of an overall “yes” to the package in a referendum is much higher than a “no.” Polls show around 20 percent of CHP voters will cast a “yes” vote. The risk of embarrassment, simply because of stiff opposition to reform, is rather high.

Second, the CHP has also realized that it will be unable to collect 110 signatures from the deputies to take the package for scrutiny at the top court. Its hopes are now tied to the notion that, if a referendum option is limited to three debated and divisive articles, it may be able to attract the signatures needed -- from the MHP or others.

Third, the CHP also calculates that some AKP deputies might even refrain from supporting the “three articles,” or join the voices that say, “Let us postpone it until after the elections.” In other words, “divide the adversary.”

Fourth, Baykal also has his upcoming party congress in May in mind. Had he stood rigidly in the defensive, he may have reasoned, this would lead to some “threatful” movements at the meeting for his position. So, he replaced stiffness with shrewdness.

But, one major motive remains unchanged: the CHP under Baykal will do its utmost to bombard, threaten and destroy the reforms regarding its traditional ally and voter segment -- the high judiciary. It has now declared a possible tactical satisfaction if it is delayed, even a little, because the CHP knows that if the next elections lead to a coalition, there will be no meaningful reform there anyhow.

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