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Western Press Review: The Turkish Vote, U.S. Elections, And Israel's Political Rivalries

Prague, 5 November 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Much analysis in the Western media today is focused on the outcome of Turkey's 3 November elections, in which Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Progress Party (Adalet ve Kalkinma, or AKP) won an absolute majority. Facing Turkey's worst economic crisis since the end of World War II, voters opted for the AKP's centrist Islamist platform, which pledged to ensure social welfare for the needy, tackle corruption, bolster economic growth, and speed up the democratic reforms necessary to qualify for European Union membership. Other commentary looks at today's Congressional elections in the United States, as voters head to the polls; Austrian Freedom Party leader Joerg Haider's trip to Baghdad; and politics in Israel amid calls for early elections.


In a contribution to "The New York Times," Istanbul Bilgi University professor and editor of the Turkish edition of "Foreign Policy" magazine Soli Ozel says Turkey's 3 November elections were about "the eruption of popular wrath against established parties." In this context, he says, the victorious Justice and Progress Party "has spoken for the angry, downtrodden, impoverished and excluded masses that have borne the burden of the economic crisis."

But he says the results "also indicate the emergence of a new coalition of the provincial middle class, conservative urban professionals and intellectuals." And balancing these two constituencies "may prove to be the Justice and Progress Party's great challenge."

Ozel says that in the post-11 September world, "when the compatibility of Islam and democracy has been questioned, the current Turkish experiment is of utmost importance. If successful, Turkey will have shown that secularism can indeed be liberal and tolerant -- and that democracy can function properly in a Muslim environment."

Most of the responsibility to make the experiment succeed lies with Turkey and depends on the ability of both Justice and Progress and the secular elites to accommodate one another." However, he says, part of the responsibility also lies with the European Union, which has been too slow to accept Turkey's bid for membership. He says an EU invitation to Turkey to start negotiations "will consolidate the liberal political changes that have gained such momentum."


In "The Washington Post," David Broder says: "If there is one word that characterizes the just-finished midterm campaign [in the U.S.], it is avoidance. It was notable for the races that were not contested and for the issues that were not seriously discussed."

Broder says political candidates refused to level with voters, or challenge their political opponents on the viability of their campaign claims. They avoided telling voters anything they might not want to hear, and thus skirted the issues while delivering platitudes that the voters didn't believe anyway.

"The federal government has slipped into deficit and the costs of homeland defense, the war on terrorism, and a possible war with Iraq have yet to be fully factored in," he writes. Yet few incumbents or challengers, who were busy promising "more money for farm subsidies, schools or whatever other cause stirs their voters, were willing to say how they would pay for all this."

Broder says throughout the campaigns, "instead of dealing with big issues, most candidates nitpicked their opponents, finding something -- real or synthetic -- in the past that would alienate voters. Or they simply exploited a campaign gaffe. Millions of dollars were spent on attack ads attacking the opponent for using attack ads."

In a country almost evenly divided 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, Broder says, "neither party was willing to stake out bold positions on big questions."


An editorial in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" discusses Austrian far-right Freedom Party leader Joerg Haider's visit to Baghdad, ostensibly on a trade and humanitarian mission. The editorial expresses its doubt that on this, his third visit, Haider actually met with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. The paper says it was more likely one of Saddam's many doubles.

The paper goes on to say that Haider has every reason to seek his fortune abroad since at home he has proved an utter failure. The southern Austrian province of Carinthia, under his rule, has reached rock-bottom economically and is the poorest of all the Austrian states. Neither the taxpayers nor the Carinthian millionaire leader is willing to foot the bill to nurse sick children from Iraq back to health, which is part of Haider's proclaimed mission.

The commentary attributes some even more fantastic ulterior motives to Haider's visit. Allegedly, it says, the happy end to the story would be toppling Saddam Hussein. And Haider, the paper suggests sarcastically, would be the ideal person to fill his position by becoming the UN's Iraqi emir.


An editorial in France's daily "Le Monde" says an avowedly Islamist party is now leading Turkey, a development which is without precedent in the 79 years of the modern Turkish secular state. The triumph of the moderate Justice and Progress Party (AKP) upsets the Turkish political scene "from top to bottom," says the paper. "Most of the traditional parties were swept away." And the military hierarchy, "which is more attached to state secularism than democracy, is being challenged."

The paper says the 48-year-old AKP leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is always impeccably dressed and has little in common with radical mullahs. His is a conservative party that promises to "respect the values" of Turkey's 66 million inhabitants, most of whom are Muslim, while attempting to "accelerate" Turkey's bid for EU membership and respecting its secular nature. The AKP has "the historic responsibility for demonstrating the compatibility of Islam with democracy," the paper says. And if it succeeds in reconciling Islam and modernity, this could be a valuable example for the rest of the Arab world.


In Britain's daily "The Guardian," Ian Buruma writes, "The harshness of Israel's confrontation with the Palestinians has coarsened Israel itself." The country's political liberals now "feel isolated and abandoned in an increasingly brutal society." He says many live "in fear of what their government might do in the case of further conflict in the Middle East."

But to declare Israeli moderate liberalism dead "would be foolish," he says. Most Israelis "are not ready to embrace fascism or ethnic cleansing. They just want to feel safe." Yet right now, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's "hard line makes them feel safer than more moderate alternatives."

"This could still change," says Buruma. "But the liberals in Israel do need our support. The hard right gets plenty of help from Jewish chauvinists [and] religious fanatics, both Jewish and Christian." But the left "gets almost none, because liberals in the worldwide diaspora regard the Zionist enterprise as an embarrassment, a nightmare that gives Jews a bad name." Buruma says, "To wash one's hands of Israel might seem like the enlightened thing to do, but once the crazies take over, we will all feel the consequences."


A commentary in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" discusses the current government crisis in Israel spurred by last week's collapse of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's ruling government coalition after the Labor Party quit following a budget dispute.

The loss of Labor's support reduced Sharon's coalition to 55 deputies in the 120-seat parliament. Sharon, having survived three no-confidence votes in parliament yesterday, now appears to be considering holding early elections.

In the light of this governmental deadlock, the paper questions whether Israel will survive a government crisis "because nothing is happening, or nothing is happening because the country is stuck in a political crisis?"

The paper says the gloomy prospects lie in a choice between Prime Minister Ariel Sharon or Benjamin Netanyahu, with or without early elections. For the Labor Party is not likely to recover from its weaknesses and the gloom will turn into darkness since the Palestinians are also progressing toward reforms at only a snail's pace.