Washington, Brussels and Turkey’s election

What are Washington and Brusselsand’ concerns about the upcoming elections in Turkey and, perhaps more importantly, about the overall political dynamics in the country?
In the absence of domestic checks and balances against growing authoritarianism at home, many critics of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government hope that external actors and dynamics may play a mitigating role. The external actors in question are often the European Union and the United States. It is not uncommon for the European Commission to make critical statements about the state of democracy in Turkey. Brussels often reminds Ankara that respect for the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary are essential conditions for EU membership. Similarly, it is not uncommon for Washington to express concerns about human rights and democracy in Turkey. The US Congress and American NGOs can be even more critical.
For instance, last year in February, a number of American intellectuals and NGOs such as Freedom House wrote a letter to President Barrack Obama asking him to put more pressure on Ankara. The letter urged the White House to get more vocal in its criticism of the AKP, reminding the President that the AKP has pushed through illiberal institutional changes — such as bringing the judiciary under executive control and expanding state authority to censor the internet — that would eliminate the hallmarks of democracy: the separation of power, checks and balances and civil liberties. It is no secret that Obama sees in President Recep Tayyip Erdogan a mercurial and erratic Turkish leader willing to resort to wild conspiracy theories in order to attack his domestic opponents. It is therefore unsurprising that the White House does not wish to provide ammunition to Erdoganand’s conspiracy theories by publicly criticizing him. Moreover, Turkeyand’s geo-strategic importance and the security agenda ranging from Syria to Iraq and Iran preclude the prioritization of democracy. In short, as is often the case, Washington finds itself in a difficult situation where the urgent strategic issues trump the important long-term concerns about Turkish democracy. The result is an uneasy balance between interests and ideals where national interests prevail over democratic ideals. It is important to remember that in the eyes of Washington and Brussels, what distinguishes Turkey from the rest of the Islamic world is the fact that the country is the oldest democracy in the Islamic world with the strongest secular and pro-Western tradition. Today, however, this secular, democratic and pro-West tradition is being replaced by a more Islamic, autocratic and anti-West tendency under the rule of the new AKP. The new AKP, in that sense, is a much different entity than the old one. The old AKP gave hope to the West as a model proving the compatibility of Islamic political tradition with democracy and secularism. In the eyes of Washington and Brussels the Turkish model represented by the old AKP is gone. In the new AKPand’s and”New Turkey,and” the West is not only concerned about the state of individual rights and liberties as well as freedom of the press, but more importantly, about whether the upcoming elections will be free and fair. Yes, the sanctity of the ballot box, something that was never questioned before, is now being questioned. Yet Turkeyand’s strategic importance in the eyes of Washington and the loss of Brusselsand’ soft power over Turkey diminish the importance of these Western concerns. Neither Washington nor Brussels seem to have much leverage with Erdogan. At the end of the day, Turkeyand’s domestic dynamics will matter much more than the reaction coming from the West. This is why the West can only hope that Erdogan and the AKP will emerge from the elections with a diminished parliamentary majority. This is also why the West now sees the Peoplesand’ Democratic Party (HDP) as the best hope for Turkish democracy.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman