Gül's election: a new message to the world

Gul's presidency is a positive message both to the West and the East with respect to such important issues as Islam, democracy, modernity, liberalization, and participation in government.

Gül's election: a new message to the world
By Ekrem Dumanlı, Today's Zaman

Abdullah Gül was elected the 11th president of the Turkish Republic. This is a very important development. An historic turning point not only for Turkey, but also for the world, particularly Islamic countries. Please remember the discussions that waged for months: Hyper-secularists have been insistently making this accusation: "With roots in an Islamic movement, Gül should not and cannot be president." However Gül was one of the leaders of a political party -- the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) -- which has gone through a significant process of transformation. He has distanced himself from the National View ideology, with which he started his political career, and launched a new program of change in collaboration with Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The National View ideology is still alive today under the roof of the Felicity Party (SP), but only managed to secure 3 percent of votes in the last general elections. On the other hand the AK Party's support rose to 47 percent. This is because the AK Party has become a political party which welcomes everybody, believes in democracy, and takes steps toward pluralist and participatory democracy, and carries the burden of being the party of the masses.

Of course Gül has no problem with Islamic identity. Only he does not pursue politics based on religious values, and this is what Turkish people want. This is the people's wish: piety should not be under the hegemony of a single party and at the same time, politics should be an instrument that extends religious freedoms.

Erdoğan and Gül have redefined the AK Party with reference to a conservative and democratic identity. They have seen Islamic culture as a source of richness and introduced considerable reforms with respect to Turkey's EU bid. They have unveiled structural reforms to implement the Copenhagen criteria and eliminate obstacles that restrict freedom of thought.

A long discussion has been going on in the Islamic world. Some argued that democracy was not a liberating method, contrary to what was widely believed. That is, it would tolerate people or parties with an Islamic identity up to a point, but beyond that point, some clandestine powers would step in to prevent conservative people from assuming posts in the country's administration. Unfortunately there have been dramatic experiences that gave credit to this argument. For instance, a political party that received the highest number of votes in the general elections in Algeria was denied taking power and the democratic world did not react against the perpetrators of the military coup. Such incidents tended to lend support to radical groups that suggested: "It is futile for you to attempt to participate in a country's administration through democratic means; they will never allow you to do so. The only way is armed struggle." Suggestions of this radical discourse would be to the advantage of some Islamic countries ruled by dictatorships as they could maintain their oppressive rule under the pretense of keeping law and order.

Gül's election as president presents a novel model for the world, giving the message that if a political party, acting according to existing laws, seeks popular support and if the people believe in it, then democracy will ensure everybody's participation in the country's rule. Indeed this is the proper message that must be given, as democracies have their own internal control mechanisms. From the top judiciary to the constitutional institutions, from the media's supervision over the government's activities to members of Parliament expressing their ideas freely, numerous checks and balances in place in democratic systems are indispensable elements of the system. The presidency cannot be left outside these checks and balances -- contrary to what might be expected in a kingdom. For this reason, it would be wrong to manufacture pointless illusions purely based on the political career of a person elected president. The functioning of democracy has placed the modest son of a lathe operator in the top post of the state apparatus.

There is a bad tendency frequently employed in Turkey by a group of elites who seek to mobilize the military. They try to incite the military, particularly with respect to top posts such as the presidency. This is what they did when Gül was first nominated to the presidency. Unfortunately, the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) posted a statement that came to be known as the e-memorandum on April 27. This played a partial role in holding early general elections, the results of which implied that the nation disapproved of intervention from state institutions in the presidential election -- which should be left to the Parliament. For this reason the AK Party secured 47 percent of votes and renominated Gül for the presidency. These elitists and hyper-secularists are still intent on inciting the military and the judiciary. Their attitude may continue for a while, but I think the presidency and the TSK will have better relations in the near future. There are two important points that support my case: the people do not approve of tension between institutions and politics and the longstanding Turkish government tradition does not tolerate disagreement among top state posts. We may also add that Gül's presidency is a positive message both to the West and the East with respect to such important issues as Islam, democracy, modernity, liberalization, and participation in government. It follows that a person who becomes a democrat, coming from the Islamic tradition, can be elected president. This message makes great sense not only for Turkey or Islamic countries, but also for the Western world that is perplexed by Islam and democracy.
Last Mod: 30 Ağustos 2007, 09:19
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