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Cablegate: Turkish Political Stability: Tensions Break The

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 ANKARA 002823

SIPDIS


E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/14/2014
TAGS: PREL PGOV PINS ECON EFIN TU
SUBJECT: TURKISH POLITICAL STABILITY: TENSIONS BREAK THE
SURFACE


REF: A. ANKARA 2663
B. ANKARA 2600
C. ANKARA 2204
D. ANKARA 0348
E. ANKARA 1842


(U) Classified by Ambassador Eric Edelman; reasons: 1.4 (b,d).


1. (C) Summary: Turkey has entered a period of increased
political tension as a result of the education reform
controversy. PM Erdogan will remain under constant pressure
from within his AK Party and from the Turkish military.
Erdogan and AKP are showing strains as even relatively
"liberal" members of the "secular" Establishment again
question AKP's agenda. Erdogan's ability to use political
capital has decreased and U.S. objectives with Turkey face
the prospect again of being manipulated in the domestic
arena. We will need to avoid being seen either as pursuing a
"moderate Islamic" vice truly secular Turkey or as giving
even a yellow light to the military in its domestic
maneuvering. Turkey's EU candidacy remains the major
constraining force in this struggle. End summary.


-----------------------------------------
NO AGREEMENT EVEN ON REASONABLE SOLUTIONS
-----------------------------------------


2. (U) Throwing down the gauntlet to the "secular" Turkish
Establishment, PM Erdogan has insisted on passing
education-reform legislation seen by the Establishment as a
sign of an Islamicizing agenda threatening what the
establishment defines as the core values of "secular" Turkey
(refs A,B). His approach has brought to the surface the
traditional Establishment's deep underlying distrust of, and
visceral distaste for, Erdogan and his Anatolia-oriented,
Islam-influenced AKP. We expect President Sezer to veto the
law; if Erdogan insists on passing it again (further
sharpening the State's animosity) we expect Sezer to work
with main opposition CHP to take the issue to the
Constitutional Court.


3. (C) As refs (A,B) point out, the reform law in question
tries to address problems of making higher education more
accessible and relevant and eliminating discrimination
against high school grads (principally graduates of preacher
schools) who want to study fields in university different
from their high school concentrations. The route pressed by
AKP could serve to make religious high schools more
attractive but would likely lead to no improvement of either
the current uneven quality of religious education or quality
and availability of higher education.


--------------------------------
ERDOGAN AND AK PARTY OFF BALANCE
--------------------------------


4. (C) The AKP leadership refuses to make its intentions and
goals clear, either to the electorate, to its own
parliamentary group, or in a coordinated way through
consistent dialogue with other loci of State power, however
difficult such a dialogue has proven to be so far. The
broadest range of our AKP contacts readily, if passively,
admits that this failure of public relations is a problem.
The reasons AKP is pushing this reform now after withdrawing
it in Oct. 2003 are not clear. Some speculate it is
motivated in part by a desire to respond to pent-up
expectations of Islamist elements of its base after seeing an
increase in Islamist Saadet Party's vote in the March 2004
local elections.


5. (C) Erdogan has cut himself off both from his party and
from a broad flow of timely, accurate information about
political developments, the intentions of the TGS and other
core elements of the State, and economic/financial
developments; a recent column by "Aksam"'s Ankara bureau
chief -- "Erdogan's Strategic Isolation" -- has been widely
read and accepted as on target by key party insiders.
Erdogan has compounded his problems by publicly humiliating
the AKP parliamentary group: MPs are insulted by his
arrogance that they are "just filler". He has alienated even
those Cabinet members who are close to him. In this latter
regard, two contacts have told us that at the May 10 Cabinet
meeting Erdogan belittlingly told Transportation Minister
Yildirim to stop accepting rides in corporate jets and
derisively ordered Finance Minister Unakitan to fix the
financial situation by saying, "It's not like your little
corn deal" (an allusion to the inside information Unakitan's
son used to make a windfall profit by importing corn just
before a rise in an import tax).


6. (C) Erdogan sometimes evinces an aura of someone who
believes he has a mission from God to rule Turkey (ref D).
He still has a thirst for absolute power (ref E). He and his
party have failed to deal intelligently with the reality that
the armed forces retain significant influence and are a
political power to be reckoned with (ref C).


--------------------------------------------
THE TURKISH MILITARY EXPLOITS AKP'S WEAKNESS
--------------------------------------------


7. (C) CHOD Ozkok's mid-April warnings about military red
lines (ref C) were followed by a blunter General Staff (TGS)
warning in response to Erdogan's insistence on challenging
the status quo through his draft education reform bill. The
TGS seems constrained by Turkish public opinion's support for
the potential of EU membership and aversion to coups. Thus,
in seeking to manipulate the political scene, TGS is looking
beyond either a coup or something equivalent to the
post-modern coup ("February 28 process") the military used to
engineer the removal from office of Islamist PM Erbakan in
1997. In what commentators are beginning to call a
post-post-modern approach (ref C), retired and some active
senior officers appear to be working both to create
alternative power centers, to accentuate existing fissures in
AKP, and to provoke Erdogan's further isolation within the
party.


8. (C) Justice Minister Cemil Cicek confided to "Aksam"
Ankara bureau chief Nuray Basaran that the military is aware
of and complicit in his and his faction of 30 MPs' attempts
to egg Erdogan on to more confrontation. AKP chief whip
Salih Kapusuz, one of FonMin Gul's closest allies,
acknowledged to us what we have heard from other contacts:
that he and, he strongly implied, Gul are in direct contact
with retired four-star NSC SecGen Tuncer Kilinc. Gul, who
has a carefully-controlled but competitive relationship with
Erdogan and who was preferred by the TGS over Erdogan until
the TGS concluded that, underneath his reasonable facade, Gul
is a much more committed Islamist, has tried to manipulate
Erdogan in a more accommodative way than Cicek. However,
Gul's and a group of 25 like-minded MPs' reported attempt on
May 10 to remind Erdogan of the costs of Erbakan's 1997
dismissive attitude toward the military fell on deaf ears.


-------------------------------------------
WHERE DOES THE LIBERAL ESTABLISHMENT STAND?
-------------------------------------------


9. (C) We are seeing more and more that pillars of the
relatively enlightened segment of the secularist
Establishment are realizing both how serious the gap is
between the military and AKP, how AKP can't or won't improve
its timing or focus constructively on big issues, or how AKP
has lost its momentum.


10. (S) MFA spokesman Namik Tan, a rigid secularist but no
supporter of the hard-core Kemalist line that the military
should intervene, acknowledged to us May 13 that the
AKP-military tensions are very serious. A group of prominent
moderate secularists who have had hopes that AKP would be the
engine of long-needed reform and who have long advocated open
society (TEB Bank chairman Hasan Colakoglu, academic and
columnist Soli Ozel, former ambassador and leading NGO figure
Ozden Sanberk, former Treasury undersecretary Faik Oztrak,
Central Bank deputy chairman Sukru Binay) concluded at their
periodic confidential meeting May 12 that Turkey's future --
especially on key foreign policy questions such as NATO's
future and Iraq -- no longer depends on AKP but on how close
the Turkish military's relationship with the U.S. will be.
Ertugrul Ozkok, editor of mass circulation "Hurriyet", which
belongs to a media group dependent on the Erdogan
government's good will to avoid corruption investigations,
used his May 9 column to satirize Erdogan's wife Emine by
figuratively stripping her bare for wearing stiletto heels
under her Islamist dress during the Erdogans' recent official
visit to Athens.


--------------------------------------------- ------
READING THE TEA LEAVES TO SEE WHERE THE U.S. STANDS
--------------------------------------------- ------
11. (C) It is clear to us from our contacts with AKP and the
military that both sides are trying to understand where the
U.S. stands and to pull the U.S. to their side. At the same
time, one thing that all our contacts outside AKP agree on
adamantly is that foreign observers should rigorously avoid
any public comment, since any comment could be interpreted as
taking sides. Namik Tan was particularly acerbic on this
point in a comment to us May 13, dismissing EU ambassador
Kretschmer's criticism of the military's intervention on the
higher education reform law as inept, unbalanced, and
counterproductive.


-------
COMMENT
-------


12. (C) This tension between the military/traditional elite
and AKP is not merely spring fever. It will not go away. On
one side Erdogan and his party are convinced nothing can stop
them. This conviction seems to have some validity as long as
Erdogan and AKP maintain a constitutional majority in
Parliament and strong public support. On the other side
Erdogan's failure to organize his government and party into a
coherent whole with advisors clued in to the news cycle and a
process for analyzing domestic and foreign developments and
projecting a consistent vision leaves him vulnerable. AKP's
ineptitude in public relations, and the Islamist past of many
AKP officials feed TGS's suspicions of AKP's intentions,
intensifying the military's search for alternative political
forces.


13. (C) The resulting struggle is not equal. First, AKP is
weighed down by lack of clarity about its intentions, and the
Erdogan government's inability to take sensible, rapid
decisions, including on issues of direct and material
interest to the U.S. Second, the weight of fear and
intimidation as tools of State power has not diminished as
much as Erdogan, Gul and the brotherhoods and lodges in AKP
assert. And third, TGS has powerful allies in the judiciary,
bureaucracy, and business community and has the ability to
play on the personal ambitions and rivalries of politicians
within and outside AKP. The military does not accept that
there is a contradiction between stating that it sees
Turkey's membership in the EU as important and reiterating
that it has a duty to defend the "secular" nature of the
Republic. This is a duty the military is once again
forcefully declaring it will not be deterred from defending.
The problem is that the military has no viable political
alternative to turn to and has a history of poor judgment in
choosing political champions.


14. (C) Bottom line: Turkey is entering a period of
uncertainty which it has to resolve itself, and where
attempts to influence the direction from outside will have
unpredictable and unquestionably negative effects. The one
governor over the next six months will be Turkey's search for
a start date for EU accession talks.
EDELMAN

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