'AK Party-CHP coalition's greatest benefit will be CHP transformation'
by Ali Ünal
ANKARAAug 02, 2015 - 12:00 am GMT+3
by Ali Ünal
Aug 02, 2015 12:00 am
In an exclusive interview with Daily Sabah, Institute of Strategic Thinking head Professor Birol Akgün discussed the ongoing coalition talks between the AK Party and CHP
While the coalition talks between the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and the Republican People's Party (CHP) continue, many circles have commented that the inconclusiveness of the negotiations seemingly increases the chance of early elections. Speaking to Daily Sabah, the chairman of the Institute of Strategic Thinking, Professor Birol Akgün, said that while a coalition between the AK Party and the CHP seems hard to achieve, its greatest benefit would be the transformation of the CHP. Highlighting that the recent operations against the PKK may have increased the possibility of a coalition between the AK Party and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Akgün said that he finds the discourse that claims that the AK Party is launching operations to increase its votes are incorrect.Indicating that unless the PKK is prevented from restructuring the region through the use of force, a return to the peace talks will not be possible, Akgün added that the recent agreement between Turkey and the U.S. against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) might not cause radical changes regarding the current situation of Syria.
How do you evaluate the ongoing coalition talks? Which is more probable – an early election or a coalition?
The June 7 elections did not allow a single-party government. The other two options were a coalition government or early elections. We have witnessed that while there were theoretically many government options at the beginning, particularly AK Party-CHP or AK Party-MHP, in the two months since the elections, most of them have become defunct. The MHP declared that it will maintain its position as the opposition and will not be a part of any coalition if not absolutely necessary. They also clearly stated this in the first round of coalition talks. At the moment, a coalition with the MHP seems improbable. The business world and international organizations want a coalition between the AK Party and the CHP because of Turkish foreign policy. Regarding this matter, the CHP seems to be enthusiastic about a coalition, contradicting their pre-election statements; however, the AK Party and the CHP are representatives of two distinct traditions concerning Turkish domestic and foreign policies. I think that a coalition formed between the said two parties will not be easy and sustainable.
Is a grand coalition such as in Europe possible for Turkey?
In countries with democracy, coalition governments may become imperative; however, none of the parties enter the elections to become a part of a coalition. Political parties compete for a single-party government. In Turkey, it is understood that the AK Party and the CHP have divergent views even in the most basic policies, which are not easy to reconcile. We can take the AK Party's policies regarding Syria. This policy supports the Syrian people's democratic rights and states that the Assad regime has to go because of the massacres they have committed. The CHP, on the other hand, has stated that Turkey's Syrian policies were faulty and they have held meetings with Assad. I think that neither the AK Party nor the CHP have changed their stances regarding this matter. Concerning domestic policies, there are many essential differences in their policies, including the reconciliation process. Economic policies are one of the most prominent fields in which they diverge. It should be stated that Turkey is not a European country; therefore, it does not seem possible that the two parties will find common ground and form a consistent and functioning government.
The CHP still sees the world from the political paradigms of the Cold War era. Currently, the international arena is changing, transforming even. There are no indications in the CHP party manifesto that they are aware of the changing times. They still speak with the terminology of the Cold War and possess an understanding of the society and state that prioritizes security. They want to administer Turkey with a 1930s and 1940s positivist and modernist understanding. Similarly, they cannot break their mold and provide a concrete alternative solution to the Kurdish problem. I think that all of these are a product of a problematic mindset. While they want to be close with the West on the premise of secularity, they still disregard the Arab world and rising powers such as China and Russia. Regarding domestic policies, they do not possess the vision for a pluralist structure and a new constitution.While it seems challenging, the most beneficial aspect of a coalition between the AK Party and the CHP is that it may transform the CHP, which sees itself as the protector of the old regime. The CHP might adapt to the realities of contemporary Turkey. This may become a gain for the consolidation of democracy in Turkey.
MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli made a statement in which he said that if necessary, they would shoulder the responsibility. Does this statement show that MHP is coming closer to being a coalition partner?
The MHP's top priority is not to obtain the power to establish a government. The MHP is a party that does politics with the reflex of a state and follows a nationalist ideology. In this manner, its self-proclaimed role is different from the other parties. They, as a party, state that they do not see the coalition talks as a negotiation for ministries, but they follow a policy that prioritizes the perpetuity of Turkey. On the evening of June 7, Devlet Bahçeli said that they will not be a part of the coalition talks and the AK Party and the CHP should form the coalition, in which they are still insistent. They have also stated that they may become part of a coalition as a last resort, if a government cannot be established and Turkey's stability is at a risk. Bahçeli said that only a coalition between the AK Party and the CHP might reverse social polarization and overcome the pressure originating from the international community. As you know, there is a discourse that Turkey is supporting ISIS. These discourses, which also claim that Turkey is isolating itself from the international community, have caused the MHP to believe that a coalition between the AK Party and the CHP would be more suitable for the future of the country. However, I think that the operations against ISIS since last week and the mended relations with the U.S. have made an AK Party-MHP coalition more probable.
It was claimed that the AK Party launched operations against the PKK to increase their votes in possible early elections. What is your opinion on this subject?
I do not think that these operations are a preparation for an early election. The Sept. 6-8 incidents caused a crisis in the reconciliation process; tens of people died and southeastern Turkey became a battlefield. In my opinion, the government did not react swiftly to maintain the process. The Suruç incident and break of the ceasefire by the PKK has forced the state to act. These statements are a product of not knowing the state's traditions, while they may also aim to relieve the pressure over the PKK and to decrease the social support on the war against terror.
As President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu stated, the reconciliation process, which started in 2009, exists to make the PKK lay down arms and integrate them into politics. While the HDP seems to have achieved this with 80 deputies, the PKK prevents the HDP from becoming an independent political actor. They have rendered the HDP non-functional before the opening of Parliament. This pre-emptive action forces the HDP to be a subject of the PKK, while forcing the political struggle to become an armed one; however, everyone should know that negotiations will not happen when there are arms present.
Can the recent agreement between the U.S. and Turkey be considered a game changer?
If Turkey and the U.S. launch a joint land operation, this agreement could become a game changer. It should be stated that the current policy the U.S. follows aims to slow down and contain ISIS, rather than eliminating it. Without a land operation, it is not possible to eliminate ISIS. Nevertheless, Turkey does not plan a land operation; the priority is to secure the borders. ISIS is now at Turkey's gates and has become aggressive enough to assault the Turkish military. In the agreement, the exclusion of the Kurdish corridor can be considered as a gain for Turkey. There are 2-3 million people who live on the Jarablus-Azez-Aleppo line. Turkey wants to keep this strip of land open to establish a safe zone and to settle some of the refugees who are currently in Turkey on this land. With the forced withdrawal of ISIS, a safe zone with a depth of 40 kilometers can be established. This land will be protected by the moderate opposition, led by the Free Syrian Army. Thus, Turkey will actually establish the safe zone it has been supporting. Ultimately, the agreement between Turkey and the U.S. should not be expected to radically change the current situation in Syria. While this agreement and the operations indicate that the war will continue to rage on for a time, it also shows that Turkey is taking and will take the necessary precautions to protect itself from any harm.
Considering the process of disarmament of organizations such as the IRA and ETA, at which stage is the reconciliation process in Turkey?
The reconciliation process, which started in 2009, during a period when the Arab Spring was not in motion and Syria and Iraq had territorial integrity, had a democratic basis. After 2011, in Rojava and Northern Iraq, room for maneuver appeared for organizations like the PKK. The possibility of a revised constitution that would grant more rights to Kurdish citizens in Turkey was high. However, in the current situation, the PKK believes that it can establish an independent Kurdish state, after what transpired in Rojava and Kobane. They envisioned a state that includes some Turkish territories and consists of cantons. They have convinced many of a transnational Kurdish state.
On the other hand, it will not be possible to continue the process without obstructing the PKK's violent actions that aim to shape the region. This struggle had to be done on a moral and political premise. The Turkish state and government have been very patient, despite criticisms and the Sept. 6-8 incidents, until the break of the ceasefire by the PKK. The heinous acts committed by the PKK show that Turkey was right in adding the PKK beside ISIS to the Syrian note. Prime Minister Davutoğlu stated that Turkey was not the side that abandoned the peace talks; it was the PKK.
He added that the negotiations would not start again until the disarmament of the PKK. It is understood that peace is not possible when a terrorist organization continues its armed struggle along with the political one, as is the case with Hezbollah in Lebanon. If it is deemed necessary, the state may continue the talks openly or secretly, as is the case with FARC in Colombia. However, in my opinion, it will not be easy for peace talks to work unless the PKK disarms itself. Therefore, it all depends on the PKK's decisions and actions. The PKK's discourse that states that "when the state stops assaulting us, we will disarm" is not acceptable, either by western countries or the people of Turkey with common sense. The public support for the operations and NATO's understanding attitude indicates that the government's strategy against terrorism is right.
Some foreign media outlets suggest that there is an ideological parallelism between the AK Party and ISIS. How do you evaluate these allegations?
Who allege this are completely oblivious to the ideology AK Party represents. ISIS's Salafi jihadism and AK Party's democratic approach with Islamic priorities are two contrasting traditions. The former shapes politics with the usage of violence, while the latter rejects violence and only demands respect for its views. AK Party's approach is more compatible with the 1400 year old Islamic tradition, whereas ISIS's isolating and violent approach only appeals to marginal groups. These allegations are either out of mere ignorance or ulterior motives. There were some communities in Turkey which made similar allegations and caused this faulty perception to spread to the world. To clearly state, these allegations are the part of a smear campaign conducted by the Parallel Structure and intellectual elites of Istanbul who is alienated to the majority of the people in Anatolia. If AK Party had supported and aided ISIS, there would be thousands of documents proving this, prepared by the undercover agents of numerous intelligence services within ISIS. These discourses are utilized to force Turkey which follows an independent foreign policy, to accept a solution with Al-Assad in Syria. However, these allegations have become irrelevant as Turkey signed an active cooperation agreement against ISIS with the US.
Including ISIS, all of the terrorist organizations in Syria exist because of the West's tolerance to Al-Assad. They have disregarded a political actor who uses chemical weapons and did not employ any sanctions to him, being deceived by Russia. This is a hypocrisy and when Turkey highlights this fact, they become discomforted. A pluralist, democratic and inclusive government without Al-Assad is what Turkey wants and, actually, the West defends. However, Turkey was left alone because none took action against political actors such as Iran and Russia and, as a result, 300,000 people were massacred. Meanwhile, it also caused ISIS to take root in Syria and Iraq, changing the codes of the Sunni population. The West is at fault regarding this matter; however, Turkey is unjustly blamed.