An overview of the most important policy issues on Turkey’s agenda

Turkey’s political history has had many notable achievements and as well as some obvious failures. Geographically located at the joint of Europe, Asia and Arabia, the nation’s demography is culturally, linguistically and religiously diversified. Generally, policy making is conducted within the framework of a parliamentary representative democratic republic.  The Prime Minister is the head of the government.  The President (Cumhurbaskani in the vernacular) has a nominal role as the head of state, who oversees the functioning of this multi-party system.  The 1982 Referendum was a key event in the country’s history, as it changed the complexion of the policymaking process.  In modern Turkey, the three key political principles are Kemalism, Laicism and Modernization.

A focus area of Turkey’s policy framework is its relationship with the United States.  This is a strategically important diplomatic relationship for both countries as there is much to be gained through mutual co-operation.  Indeed the U.S. has been a major aid-provider to Turkey over the last few years.  But Turkey’s challenge lies in balancing this key relationship with that of its neighbors.  This is the rationale for the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government “to conduct a very active foreign policy aimed at portraying the country as a regional power and at improving relations with its neighbors.”  (www.setav.org, 2011)  Hence, Turkey is keenly engaged with Iraq, Syria, Israel, Iran and other neighbors to establish goodwill and key economic arrangements.

As many of Turkey’s neighbors are culturally oriented towards Islam, it’s policy makers will have to tread carefully to not offend American interests in the region.  An integral aspect of Turkish politics is the influence of Islamic theology in some of the policies.  The country has a vibrant political culture, with different ideological viewpoints jostling for center-stage.  Hence, we see strands of neo-liberalism, Socialism, Anarchism and Islamism all finding mention in the national political discourse.  Women of Turkey are also at a cross-roads, as Western influences are overwhelming their adherence to Islamic codes of dressing, public conduct, role within the family, etc.  The challenge for policy makers is to give room for the expression of these various ideas in an atmosphere of harmony and tolerance.

The nation also faces a challenge in terms of reining the powers of the military, which has historically acted in an opportunistic and arbitrary manner.  For example, the military has in the past intervened or dismantled the democratic process and assumed executive power through coup-de-dat.  Some of the prominent instances of interference or overthrowing were witnessed in 1960, 1971, 1980 and 1997.  While some of the coups were legitimized by widespread popular support for them, the continued over-shadow of military power has at other times undermined the general interests of the population.  It also hinders and threatens the prospects for democracy in the country.  Hence legislations to make the military subservient to democratic interest is a worthy objective.

While the military is a source of corruption in the country (where nepotism is fairly entrenched), white collar crimes are also on the rise in recent decades.  As Turkey continues to integrate its economy with the broader world, the scale of corporate corruption under the neo-liberal regime has increased.  This is another area where policy initiatives are urgent and imperative.  Turkey should also try to emulate the standards set by France and Germany in terms of environmental regulations.

References:              

  1. Ozbudun, 2000, Contemporary Turkish Politics: Challenges to Democratic Consolidation, Published by Lynne Rienner.

Carol Migdalovitz, Turkey: Selected Foreign Policy Issues and U.S. Views, August 29, 2008, retrieved from < http://www.setav.org/ups/dosya/13181.pdf> on 17th November, 2011

Ersel Aydinli, Nihat Ali Özcan, and Dogan Akyaz (January/February 2006). “The Turkish Military’s March Toward Europe”. Foreign Affairs. Retrieved 16 December 2008.