Hilal Elver and I are grateful to several readers of our blog that pointed out that The Economist does, in fact, routinely make endorsements of candidates and parties in foreign elections, including those of Northern liberal democracies. We reacted too impulsively to the uproar in the Turkish media that did find The Economist editorial insulting and interventionary without ourselves adequately checking the practice of the magazine. The Turkish reaction, incidentally, spanned the entire spectrum of opinion from left to right, from socially conservative to secular permissive. We say this without wanting to explain away our own responsibilities to know what we are talking about!
While apologizing for this mistaken way of framing the issue our basic argument still holds. The Economist tone and phrasing still strikes us as ‘Orientalist,’ and seems different in style and language than its standard endorsements of co-equal countries: U.S., Canada, Israel. Turkey‘s sensitivities are historically frayed by European penetrations of their sovereign space during the decades of Ottoman decline in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and the Turkish reaction reflected this sensitivity, not inappropriately, in our view. Post-colonial consciousness, even for countries such as Turkey that were never actually colonized, is part of our 21st century reality. And this sensitivity may be underscored by the trials and tribulations heaped on Turkey recently by the European Union accession demands that seem endless and do not disclose much light at the end of the tunnel.
A further point of clarification concerns the main substantive foundation of The Economist recommendation of a vote against the AKP: namely, the desirability of slowing down the Erdogan drive toward authoritarianism via constitutional reform, transforming Turkey present parliamentary system into a presidential system along the lines of France, which would enable Erdogan to remain the Turkish leader for a further ten years after his present term expires. We endorsed, in general terms, this concern, but would now qualify it to the extent that much criticism of the AKP, and Erdogan in particular, has been exaggerated, and that there are indications that the AKP leadership is itself rather divided on whether constitutional reform should move in the direction of a presidential system. There seem to be more checks and balances within the AKP than is admitted by its fiercest secular critics.
With the election results expected in the next few days, it will become clear whether this issue of AKP dominance in real or imagined, and in the months ahead, what the shape the needed process of constitutional reform will take.