03/11/2002 - D-7
Just a few days before the election the neo-Islamists appear to be the top favourites to win the general elections on Sunday. The Justice and Development Party (AKP), led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan is ahead in all the polls with 30% of the intention to vote - ahead of the Peoples' Republican Party (CHP), a centre left movement estimated to win 18% and that has been joined by the former economy minister Kemal Dervis,.
Although he is no longer a candidate Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was declared ineligible by the Electoral High Council on 16th September, is still the president of his party, in spite of protests on the part of some lawyers, who maintain that the president of a party must also be a founder member. On 23rd October Erdogan was again summoned to appear in court where the origins of his fortune are being examined. The following day, prosecutor of the Appeal Court Sabih Kanadoglu, requested the Constitutional Court to ban the Justice and Development Party for not respecting the laws surrounding political parties. In spite of the former Mayor of Istanbul's declarations - who denies being an Islamist and says he is in favour of Turkey's candidature to join the European Union and who is also calling for greater expression of freedom and religion - Turkish civil society and the military are worried about the growing power exercised by Recep Tayyip Erdogan's movement.
The rejection of the traditional political parties by a great majority of the Turks is evident. The Justice and Development Party is taking advantage of this rejection by federating those excluded in its name and by defending the interests of the middle and underprivileged classes. The AKP is not however the only movement to have claimed this territory. Cem Uzan, a 42 year old businessman, who is influential in the media and the mobile phone industry, decided recently to launch himself into politics. "From now on I am setting aside my identity as a businessman in order to lead Turkey to where it should be and I am aiming to govern country" declared the founder of the Young Party (Genc). Many people think that the businessman, who is not only being prosecuted under American law for fraud against Nokia and Motorola but also the Turkish courts, is just trying to take advantage of parliamentary immunity. Cem Uzan's movement lies in third position in the opinion polls, coming near to the 10% mark in intention to vote that is required to be represented in Parliament. In order to assert himself amongst the electorate the populist leader is ready to promise anything. "No more taxes on medicines, on food, books, land and a house for everyone who hasn't got one with loans over thirty years", announced the Young Party's leader who is also promising free schoolbooks for all children and a fourfold increase in the number of Turkish universities if he is elected.
Apart from the Justice and Development Party, the Peoples' Republican Party and the Young Party none of the other 18 candidate movements (including the three parties in the government coalition - the Democratic Left party (DSP), the National Action Party (MHP) and the Mother Country Party (ANAP), a liberal, pro-European movement that is led by Mesut Yilmaz) will succeed in going beyond the 10% threshold on Sunday. Over the past week however the latter movement has managed to make a comeback in the polls. According to a survey undertaken by the Istanbul Centre for Social Studies half of the 4 million called to the ballot box are about to vote for the Justice and Development Party or the Young Party. In addition to this a survey published in the Milliyet newspaper indicated that a third of voters are planning to vote for a different movement from the one they chose during the last election.
In its report on enlargement that was published on 9th October the European Commission refrained from recommending the start of negotiations with Turkey, that has officially been a candidate country since 1999, maintaining that the major political progress made by Ankara was still insufficient with regard to some questions involving Human Rights. The Fifteen, who are all observing these general elections, decided on caution to the despair of the pro-European Turks, who fear that the European Union's reticence will only strengthen the anti-European lobby. Ahmet Necdet Sezer, the Turkish president believes that the Fifteen's conclusions about Turkey were "positive" but they did not "satisfy his country's expectations". The Turkish political community is still hoping that the European Union will give the go ahead to the start of membership negotiations during the Copenhagen Summit on 12th and 13th December.
Unless there is a last minute surprise Turkish voters are about to take the neo-Islamists to power. This perspective is worrying the country's traditional political community and the majority of civil society and the European Union as well as the army, who are the official protectors of secularism and who enjoy major powers in Turkey within the National Security Council. On 3rd November, just a few weeks from the Copenhagen Summit and within the present international context of war against Iraq, the Turks will be playing a vital card in the future of their country.