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TEL AVIV -- Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's impressive victory in Sunday's referendum signals an end of 87 years of "Kemalism" and a gradual transition to "Erduanism."
The approval of the 26-article package enables Erdogan to legally escape the legacy of a civilian government under a military tutelage.
When Mustafa Kemal Ataturk completed Turkey's transition from an authoritarian Ottoman sultanate to a modern secular republic in 1923, he constitutionally appointed the military as the guardian of the new regime. The constitutions that were promulgated after the two military coups of 1960 and 1982 maintained this unique military role through the constitutional court and the higher board of judges and prosecutors.
When Erdogan came to power in 2002, he tried but failed to change this arrangement, and he failed again after the 2007 elections. In 2008, Erdogan's Justice and Development party (AKP) narrowly escaped being outlawed by the constitutional court for trying to undermine Turkey's secular system. The army foiled Erdogan's repeated attempts to reform the constitution on the pretext that the country was facing a Kurdish separatist insurgency and radical Islamic terrorism and, therefore, the time was not ripe for undermining the military's role.
In August this year, Turkey's supreme military council met to approve the appointment of the top army brass. Erdogan wanted to be part of the selection and refused to approve the list submitted by the army. Finally, and after eight days of bargaining, Erdogan approved the appointment of his own choice, Gen. Isik Kasoner, as the new chief of general staff and the military's pick, Gen. Erdal Ceylanoglu, as commander of the ground forces. Erdogan felt humiliated by this process.
The referendum Sunday gave him a greater role by increasing the number of judges in the constitutional court to 17 from 11, some of which are to be appointed by the parliament. This would reduce the power of the judges appointed by the military. Furthermore, officers who plan coups d'etat would be brought before a civilian court, and not a military court as has been the case until now.
Obviously disappointed by the referendum results, the military and the opposition accuse Erdogan of violating Montesqieu's dictum of separation of powers between the executive, the legislative and the judicial branches of government. They argue that through the control of the court, Erdogan seeks to dilute Turkey's secular system.
Erdogan's victory gives him better chances to win the next the parliamentary elections, which must be held by July 2011.
Erdogan's victory raises obvious questions about the direction of his future domestic and foreign policies. Domestically, the new chief of general staff already is dancing to Erdogan's tunes.
In reply to a question, Gen. Kasoner said that the Kurdish PKK "is not a terrorist organization" but a political body "with a popular base." Hence the Kurdish insurgency should be solved by the government and through political means.
Israel and the international community will, undoubtedly, study very carefully the possible repercussions of Erdogan's victory. The European Union, while welcoming the reduced role of the military, has nevertheless expressed concern about Erdogan's enhanced influence on the judicial system.
Europe did not comment immediately on Erdogan's own definition of Turkey as being the "Muslim version of Europe's Christian democratic parties -- liberal on economic issues and conservative on social policy issues."
As could be expected, the most serious study will be undertaken by both Israel and the U.S. Turkey is a member of NATO, rich economically and with growing diplomatic influence. Erdogan's growing co-operation with both Syria and Iran affects the entire region and has security ramifications for the U.S. in the Persian Gulf area. Israel is already looking for Greece as a substitute for Turkey. Could the U.S. give up its military bases in Turkey and redeploy in the Persian Gulf? Only time could tell.
Samuel Segev is the Free Press Middle East correspondent.
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