Monday, January 6, 2014

Transcript of interview: Political Analyst Ekrem Eddy Guzeldere speaks on Turkey

Interview with political analyst Ekrem Eddy Guzeldere on Dec 29 2013

Turkey and the Erdogan-Gulen puzzle

Elena Spilioti for TA YP OPSIN – CONSIDER THESE podcast : Mr. Guzeldere, in Turkey this time there's concrete accusation of corruption, but until we find out the entire truth it will take time. Meanwhile there's a lot of speculation on what will happen after Erdogan,  if Gulen and Erdogan -as they say- are two faces of the same coin ?

                        Gulen talks about democratic capitalism, education, science, and a world where Muslims are capable of working like Westerners but still preserving their own values. What do you think his supporters believe? He has powerful supporters. Among them there are business men and intellectuals. Do they think, to the extent that you may know, that his ideas might become applicable as a way of governance?

EKREM EDDY GUZELDERE:     First of all, I would like to say something about the numbers to get it a little bit into perspective. Turkey has currently a population of about 75, 76 million. The Gulen movement is estimated at roughly five million. Even if the Gulen movement were to form a political party and almost all would vote for it, it is not clear whether this party would even get more than 10% to be presented in parliament and if so, would only be a smaller coalition partner.

                        What concerns their concrete ideas for politics in Turkey is very difficult to say, because there we do not know much in concrete. There is a network of schools. It is known that the graduates from these schools are advised especially to apply to certain professions. What they are supposed to do afterwards in these positions, be it in the judiciary or in the police, is not very clear.

                        Even in the current confrontation between the Gulen movement and the AKP and especially the person of the Prime Minister, it is not clear what they would do differently in concrete politics. It is not clear either who exactly belongs to the Gulen movement or who is just a sympathizer, or who has maybe very little to do but is put into the same basket. It's not very transparent and therefore it is difficult to say who actually is really part of that movement, who is a sympathizer and who does not have anything to do with it.

E.S.:                 Is it true, however, that the Turks are looking for a new identity during the last, I would say, ten years?

E.G.:                 What has happened in Turkey, especially after Turkey became an EU candidate in 1999 and then with the AKP who has been in power since 2002, is that there are many reforms that have completely changed the political, social, and economic life of Turkey. A very closed country up until the 1980s opened up first the economy and then politics. Be it inside the country with political reforms and be it also the outlook to its neighborhood and international relations.

                        To a great extent this was a normalization of affairs in- and outside Turkey. But it was not as harmonic as it seemed, there are more rifts within the AKP and among the people who voted for the AKP. There were common interests of many different groups that supported the AKP for the first five, six, seven years of their government.

                        There was a little bit the perception within Turkey and especially abroad that there is one Islamic movement and they more or less all want the same and they follow the same ideas and the same persons. However, there are many different groups within that Islamic movement and of course outside the Islamic movement in support of the AKP. Within the past two to three years, these differences have become clearer. The AKP has become more authoritarian and there is more opposition from several groups, be it the Gulen movement or from outside the Islamic movement: the liberals who have almost completely abandoned the AKP and other smaller groups that also supported the AKP. There is a growing authoritarianism visible during the past two, three years and the AKP, which won three consecutive elections now thinks that it can and should govern and rule alone and does not need any more alliances and partners. This is a process now of confronting and fighting against these former allies and partners.

E.S:                  [Would you elaborate on] The fact that there's no alliance or collaboration with other parties even in the case where there's this scenario of having presidential democracy?

E.G:                  Yes. This was the plan of the Prime Minister to change the constitution, make it more Presidential, and then be elected President in 2014 where Presidential elections will be held in August. For the first time the President will then be elected by popular vote. Before, the President was only elected inside parliament. This has not worked out the way Erdogan wanted it, because these constitutional changes were not made.

                        Now, there will be elections in 2014 of the President by public vote but the President is still, by and large, a representative one not very different from the President in Germany and Austria and won't have far reaching powers as Erdogan wished. At least for the time being, and since there will be national elections in 2015, most likely until 2015, there won't be a major change of the constitution and the constitution won't become any more Presidential.

E.S:                  How will the current situation in Turkey affect the elections ? They are just a few months away.

E.G:                  The first elections that will be held in a row of three elections are the regional elections. They are scheduled for 30 March 2014 and regional elections in Turkey are held on one day nationwide for all the provinces and all the municipalities. The AKP in the last national elections in 2011 almost won fifty percent. If elections were next week then, we would see an effect of the corruption scandal and of the demissions of ministers and the change of ten ministers in the cabinet.

                        However, there  are still almost three months and a lot can happen. The AKP is the most professional party organization in Turkey. It controls a large part of the media, especially TV, which is the most important one, but also numerous newspapers. They represent the view of the government and of the Prime Minister. It is still possible that for the regional elections, if the scandal does not become bigger and does not involve people closer to Erdogan or his family and himself, that there will only be a minor change in the votes for the AKP.

                        Maybe a drop of three to five percent, which means that they will still be by far the biggest party and still win the most important cities, being Istanbul and Ankara. However, with slight decrease in votes some of the cities that the AKP, before that scandal became known, sought to win this time won't be possible.

                        So far there's not a huge change in the voter preferences and one of the problem for this is also that the population does not see the opposition as a real alternative to the governing party. Until this does not change the only effect that we can directly see from a loss of vote of the AKP is that the group of non-voters or people that are undecided will increase.

E.S:                  Given the difference between the two poles of political life in Turkey nowadays, we can say that Erdogan is a person but Gulen is a movement. If at a certain Erdogan as a person is out of the picture for whatever reason, let's say he decides to resign, let's say that he's physically not able to perform his duties, what do you feel would be Turkey after Erdogan?

E.G:                  Yes this is, of course, one of the tricky questions because now Erdogan is the person that holds the different wings of the AKP together. Without Erdogan probably the party will split into its fractions and won't be as powerful as it is now. He is the charismatic leader that appeals to many in the population. That scenario is, for the time being, not very likely. If, for health reasons or other reasons, he would resign let's say next year or in two years, then I would predict that the party would divide in at least two parties with one more progressive reformist wing and one more conservative closer to the political movement where the party has its roots, which is called the National View whose founder was Necmettin Erbakan. This new, more progressive reformist party, could then again be the driving force for change.

E.S:                  Do you think that people in Turkey believe in Turkey becoming a member of the European Union or do they think that Turkey not being a member of the European Union would be more powerful regarding its role in the Middle East?

E.G:                  The population now is a lot more skeptic and are more negative towards the EU than ten or five years ago. As we can see from surveys, the support for EU membership dropped from around 75% to now only 35%. The reasons for this are that during the past years there was not much progress in the accession negotiations and issues like the blocking of chapters (by Cyprus and France) or that Turks can't travel visa free to EU countries had a very negative impact on the population.

                        Also, of course, the discourse within Turkey that more and more politicians talk about alternatives or say that the EU needs us more than Turkey needs the EU has its effect.

                        However, this can also change quickly again, for example, a solution on Cyprus that would immediately lead toward the de-blocking of eight chapters or a change of attitude of the French government would have immediately a positive effect also in Turkey. Of course, there is a debate on alternatives and looking East and Erdogan asking Putin to become a member of the Shanghai Organization of Cooperation. However, I think that through the experiences of the past two years with the neighboring countries and the Arab Spring, many in Turkey saw that this is not a real alternative and that the best anchor for stability and democratization are closer relations with the EU. And there is some little development, one new chapter was opened only some weeks ago after three years of not opening any chapter. And there has been the start of the visa liberalization process recently.

                        I think there's still, even if it looks difficult in this now very tense situation, there's still room for improvement in 2014 on the Turkey EU relations. Of course, Turkey should have good relations with its neighbors and also good contacts to the Middle East but this should not be seen as an alternative to EU membership.

E.S:                  I suppose there's also the political solution within the European Union to open or to close specific chapters, even if these initiatives are not supported a hundred percent by evidence.

E.G:                  Yes, of course. Politicians can say that they are working even on blocked chapters and that progress is happening and that the bureaucracy is working and the technical process is continuing. To have something positive to sell, you need to open the one or the other chapter at least once a year.

                        This has not happened for three years. Even if there was now the opening of one chapter and still two or three chapters could be opened, this means that after these are opened, there's not much more to negotiate. That is why there should be a change of attitude on the side of France deblocking the chapters blocked by Sarkozy and there should be, not only because of Turkey, but because of the population on Cyprus, there should be a solution on Cyprus, which would lead also to the deblocking of eight chapters, but more importantly would have a great psychological effect on Turkey-EU relations. Ethnic Turks would be MEPs, Turkish would become an official EU language etc.

E.S.:                 Sure, because we have to remember that for the accession of a new member all the negotiations are between the commission and the already-members of the European Union.

E.G:                  Of course.

E.S:                  Mr. Guzeldere, thank you very much for your time. We hope to have you back on our podcast. We are neighbors and things that happen in Turkey do directly or indirectly affect the situation in Greece to a certain extent too.

E.K:                  I thank you. Efharisto poly! ( translated: Thank you! In Greek)

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