Features

Streetcar democracy

"Streetcar democracy" Continued...

Issue: "Tick, tick, tick ...," May 7, 2011

In March, Turkish police arrested 13 journalists on charges of conspiring to overthrow the AKP through the alleged Ergenekon plot, and two of the country's top journalists, Nedim Sener and Ahmet Sik, were included in the arrests. Both journalists worked for media outlets critical of the AKP. U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Francis Ricciardone on April 13 strongly criticized the state of press freedom in Turkey (according to the Turkish daily Hurriyet), and Reporters Without Borders called the confiscation and destruction of Sik's unpublished book "a very dangerous precedent."

A constitutional referendum that passed last September enlarged Erdogan's power and diminished the military's control over its own membership. Cagaptay says the next step could be a complete rewriting of the nation's constitution. If the AKP emerges from the June elections with two-thirds representation in the parliament, a new constitution (which is already being discussed) can be drafted without seeking consensus. Close to 55 percent of Turks do not support the AKP and its Islamist policies but, because of the country's multi-party system, the AKP only needs 45 percent of the vote to win a two-thirds majority in the Parliament.

A primary concern in post-revolutionary Arab countries is the prospect of Islamist parties coming to power and eroding democratic freedoms. During his term as mayor of Istanbul, Erdogan proclaimed the following: "Democracy is like a streetcar. You ride it until you get to your destination and then you get off."

Turkey still has a chance to redirect its current course, but it may not be the shining example of a Muslim democracy after all. And with regional ambitions largely unchecked, it could be a force to be reckoned with in years to come.

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