Saturday, April 28, 2007

Turkey's Army Raises The Stakes With The Islamists

Turkey's army is sending very public signals to the government that it may act to protect Turkey's system of secular government if the AKP party elects the Islamist Abdullah Gul as President. This from the ETB24 News Service:

Turkey's Islamist-rooted government condemned on Saturday an army threat to intervene in the nation's presidential contest while the EU and the United States urged a peaceful resolution of the crisis.

The army, which has ousted four governments in the past 50 years, issued a toughly worded statement on Friday expressing concern over the election and said it was ready to act in defence of the secular system separating state and religion.

Government spokesman Cemil Cicek's attack on the army marked an escalation in an election row pitting Turkey's secular elite, including the powerful army generals, against a government they accuse of trying to increase the role of Islam in politics.

. . . The secularists believe the ruling AK Party's presidential candidate, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, a former Islamist, would chip away at the secular state if elected. As president he would be commander in chief of the armed forces.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan spoke on Saturday by telephone with Turkey's top general, Yasar Buyukanit, Cicek said, adding the military must stay under strict civilian control.

Cicek said the army statement was aimed against the government and was timed to influence the Constitutional Court which is set to study a legal challenge to Friday's inconclusive first round of the presidential election.

. . . The European Union, which Turkey hopes to join, and Ankara's NATO ally the United States urged respect for democracy. "This is a test case if the Turkish armed forces respect democratic secularism and the democratic arrangement of civil-military relations," EU enlargement chief Olli Rehn told reporters in Brussels.

. . . Karl Duckworth, U.S. State Department spokesman in Washington, said: "The United States fully supports the constitutional process of Turkey's secular democracy. The Constitutional Court will have to decide on any questions regarding Turkey's presidential elections..."

Friday's army statement followed Gul's failure to win enough votes in parliament in the first round of the presidential election. A second vote is set for next Wednesday.

Secularist opposition parties boycotted Friday's session. One of them has asked the Constitutional Court to annul Friday's vote because there were fewer than two thirds of deputies in the chamber at the time. The government says the vote was valid.

If the court upholds the opposition appeal next week, Erdogan would have to call a snap election. President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, a staunch secularist, would stay in office until a new parliament could elect his successor.

. . . Ten years ago, Turkey's army ousted Islamist premier Necmettin Erbakan's government, in which Gul also served, with strong public backing and without tanks on the streets.

Few are predicting another military coup in Turkey, where economic growth is robust and Erdogan's government popular, but the army statement has raised the stakes in the battle of wills. Analysts say an early general election may be the only way to defuse the tensions and allow the country to move forward.
Read the entire article here. I am unsure how to feel about the EU's warning. On one hand, it is comic for being utterly meaningless. There is no military threat behind it, and it is pretty clear that the EU will not forgo a single euro in trade over it. On the other hand, it is rather ironic for being issued in protection of Islamists. If Gates of Vienna's compelling arguments on Islamicization in Europe and its likely course are accurate, this continued EU willingness to do business with and support Islamists may be biting them sooner rather then later.

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