Cablegate: Implications of Akp Closure Case and Our Public

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1. (c) Summary: The closure case against Turkey's ruling
Justice and Development Party (AKP) is a blow to this
country's future. It reflects unresolved conflicts about the
nature of Turkey, the state, the extent of popular democracy
and the role of religion in society. It also results from
failed leadership by PM Erdogan over the nine months since
his re-election victory last July. The outcome is uncertain,
but the crisis here must be viewed through the peculiar
entity that is Turkish democracy -- imperfect, crabbed, but
functional in its way. US priorities are sustaining our
ability to work with this country on mutual interests and
supporting its democratic process in a broad sense, but we
should avoid opining on the specifics of Turkish politics.
This approach will respect the raucous and historic debate
and politicking among Turks taking place now about the future
of their country -- a vital process for democracy here to
continue to mature. End Summary.

Implications of the Closure Case

2. (c) Here is one way of looking at the AKP closure case.
It is an attempted judicial coup, a Clausewitz-like extension
of politics by legal means. The indictment reads like a
political tract. It relies on newspaper clippings to justify
excluding the party and 70-odd leaders from politics. Among
more bizarre bits of proof that the AKP intends to undo
secularism are press reports of Secretary Powell praising the
country,s "moderate Muslim" government and on its support
for BMENA. The propriety of banning parties is questionable
in any democracy. A ban based on a legally weak indictment
of a party which nine months ago received 47 percent of the
vote nationally and pluralities in 76 out of Turkey's 85
constituencies looks like a travesty for democratic values
and the rule of law.

3. (c) Another way of looking at the case focuses on its
consistency with democracy Turkish style. The constitution
and laws have long provided for banning politicians and
dissolving parties, 26 of which have fallen victim. The AKP
had many years in office to change this and other
questionable policies (like Article 301 on insulting
Turkishness), but did not. What looks to Western democracies
like an unusual power in the judiciary to compromise the
results of last July's election is one of Turkey's check and
balancing mechanisms to protect the rights of the minority --
in this case secularists who feel threatened by the AKP.

4. (c) Some truth exists in both of these points of view.
One clear thing is that PM Erdogan has stumbled badly. One
blunder was failing to make political bans more difficult
when relevant legislation was amended several years ago. As
if dizzy with his own success, Erdogan failed to reassure the
53 percent who voted against his government last July that it
would respect their interests too. He failed to use his
re-election mandate to continue EU-related reforms that were
the most formidable tools for calming fears of Islamization
and untrammeled majority rule. He allowed himself to be
goaded by the National Action Party (MHP) into putting the
headscarf ban at the head of the reform queue. For this
short-term populist win, he sacrificed a larger
constitutional reform package that would have significantly
strengthened Turkey's democracy. Effective, progressive
governance that was the hallmark of early AKP years in office
dried up in the 2007 election year, and no momentum returned
after that. These and other missteps exacerbated fears among
many that Erdogan was going too far, too fast; that there
were no effective constraints on the AKP (especially after
the military's botched intervention last spring); and that
fundamentalists might soon dominate the bureaucracy,
judiciary, universities, etc., to change Turkey in dangerous
and permanent ways.

5. (c) The closure case on its face is a set-back for
democracy and stability in Turkey. For many, especially the
large swath of previously neglected voters who make up
Turkey's emerging middle class and whom Erdogan's populism
galvanized, the message is that Turkish democracy is too
poorly developed to protect their interests against the
traditional elite. This message is even more threatening to

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those here who are still marginalized, especially Kurds.
More broadly, the case looks like, and to some extent is, the
revenge of an unelected and unaccountable bureaucracy against
Erdogan and popular democracy. Turks fear the Deep State and
many, including strong critics of the AKP, are deeply
uncomfortable with the judiciary's attempt to manipulate the
power balance. Associated turmoil also renders Turkey's
vulnerable economy more uncertain at a time when global
trends are already very negative; a big downturn would
reinforce the sense of crisis here.

6. (c) Today, however, Turkey remains a secure, relatively
stable emerging democracy. There is no serious violence on
the streets, and the economy has not crashed. The closure
case is not a catastrophe or the undoing of Turkey's peculiar
and imperfect democracy, at least not now. It is better seen
as one among many moves in a very long chess game that all
sides here, including Erdogan and the AKP, are adept at
playing. The mere fact of the indictment has already
moderated the AKP's rhetoric and pushed it to emphasize
effective governance and more consensual policies, especially
EU accession-related reform. It is only a slight
exaggeration to say that this is the way Turkey's crabbed,
military-drafted constitution intended the system to work.
Figures ranging from former President Demirel to former
parliamentary Speaker Cetin have remarked to us recently that
Turkey has seen worse and will come through these
difficulties all right. At this point, at least, their
reassurances seem more justified than not.

7. (c) How matters will play out in the short-medium term is

-- A "victorious" AKP will still face intransigent opposition
from one-third of the public, not to mention the courts,
bureaucrats and generals.

-- A post-closure AKP will reorganize under a new name and
almost certainly still have the votes among its un-banned MPs
to form the next government alone. People already talk about
plausible, post-closure scenarios that involve bringing
Erdogan and other potentially banned figures back into the

-- Banishing the AKP will not change the reality that the
main opposition parties are weak, divided and ill-equipped
for 21st century politics. Space may be created for a new
centrist party, but credible leaders are not evident now, and
the outlook for new elections that would propel them to
prominence is uncertain. The Islamist fringe in and outside
the AKP could coalesce and become more radical; tarikats like
the Gulenists may become more significant power centers than
they are now.

Without broad constitutional reform to replace the current
top-down state and better protect individual liberties, and
without more consensus on the extent and limits of secularism
in modern Turkey, this struggle is likely to continue.

8. (c) This episode will last at least six months and
possibly a year or more. In the meantime, Turkey's
leadership will be distracted and cautious. Unfortunately,
this comes during a period of immense challenges to and
opportunities for Turkish interests domestically and in the
region that include the Kurdish issue, relations with Iraq
and the KRG, energy security, Cyprus, Armenia, EU accession,
terrorism, etc. Policy creativity, never Turkey's strong
suit, will diminish. We also note that before the
Constitutional Court decides the AKP's fate, it will likely
rule on the headscarf amendments; reinstituting the ban at
universities may actually calm matters and defuse the
anti-AKP case. The Court may also rule on the closure of the
Kurdish nationalist Democratic Society Party (DTP); this
could prove more explosive than the AKP case, given that DTP
leaders and constituents accept much less of the
constitutional/legal order here than the AKP mainstream.

Our Public Posture

9. (c) None of this changes the reality that Turkey is an
extremely important ally in a dangerous region and that it

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is, despite many faults, more democratic and free than any
other country in the Muslim world. We should not stifle,
through our intervention, what should fundamentally be a
debate by Turks about the future of their country that is
essential if its democratic institutions are to mature.
Doing so would make this a US issue in ways harmful to our
interests, our influence and to democratic values here. We
should stick to general principles, and let Turks sort out
the details. At some point, as matters develop, our
intervention to head off a political meltdown here may be
necessary, but that moment isn't now and may well never come.

10. (c) With this in mind, our public comments should take a
positive and high road. We should:

-- Make clear our strong support for Turkey, its democratic
institutions and its commitment to democratic values and
secular principles that define our alliance and partnership.

-- Urge Turkey's leaders and institutions to work for
pragmatic solutions that reinforce stability and build
consensus at a critical time for the country and in the

-- Emphasize support for Turkey's goal of accession to the EU
and its need to legislate and implement comprehensive
political and economic reforms that will sustain that goal
and secure liberty and prosperity in the future.

-- Look forward to continuing to work with Turkey on behalf
of common interests in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Caucasus, the
Balkans, on terrorism, on energy security, on the Cyprus
problem and elsewhere in the region and the world.

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