Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 89 - 99)



  Chairman: Mr Barchard, you come with a very long relationship with Turkey. You have worked there as a correspondent of The Financial Times, the Guardian and the BBC and you were a political advisor to the former Turkish prime minister Tansu Ciller. You have recently written a discussion paper, I understand, on Turkey's prospects for accession to the EU for TESEV, an Istanbul-based think-tank. In that capacity as an expert, we welcome you and look forward to your contribution to the Committee

Mr Chidgey

  89. Good morning, Mr Barchard.
  (Mr Barchard) Good morning.

  90. I want to talk to you and ask you some questions about Turkey's political system, on which I believe you are an expert. Can I start by quoting something to you—I am sure you are familiar with this report, but is perhaps worth noting all the same: in a recent opinion poll on the category of which political party people would support, the category "none of them" garnered 26.3 per cent. The only other party to get near it was the pro-Islamic party with 21 per cent. None of the three governing parties got above 10 per cent of public support. That, I suppose, is rather reassuring for us in this country, but nevertheless why are politicians in Turkey so unpopular?
  (Mr Barchard) There is a general reason for this and a specific one. The specific reason is of course that Turkey last year had an enormous economic crisis. People saw a vast drop in their living standards: in many cases people's incomes were cut by more than 40 per cent, many people became unemployed, and there was a natural tendency to blame the politicians. In the longer term, perhaps there is a feeling, as in other countries, that politicians spend too much time bickering with each other or pursuing narrow party interests and that this has led from time to time to a sort of deadlock in the affairs of the country.

  91. Are there any signs that the politicians are addressing these perceived failings?
  (Mr Barchard) Yes, I would have thought Turkey's application to the European Union—actually these have been very considerable strides by Turkish standards, relative to anything in the past in legislation over the last year are a sign that the people do see that things have to change and the country has to go along some new trajectory.

  92. Other than the pro-Islamic politicians, are there any signs that alternative popular figures are emerging to challenge, if I may say so, the current old men of politics in Turkey?
  (Mr Barchard) The old men of politics in Turkey seem to stay there much longer than they do in other countries. Whatever the reason for that is, I do not know. Obviously when he first returned from America comparisons were drawn with the new minister of economic affairs Mr Kemal Dervis and the role that Turgut Özal played as economic supremo in the early 1980s, and there was an assumption that he might emerge as some sort of new party leader. But that was a sort of honeymoon effect which I do not think is there now. There is another figure, the former minister of the interior, a retired policeman, Mr Sadettin Tantan. He has parted company with his previous party, which was at the last election, and might emerge as an anti-corruption candidate. He would be the other figure. But the main new leader who is popular in the countryside is the former mayor of Istanbul Mr Tayyip Erdogan who leads an Islamist party.

  93. Is there anybody else in the current political elite who has the courage or the ability to upset vested interests and effect real change?
  (Mr Barchard) I would have thought those names are the ones who are likely to make strong showing in between now and the next election. But one cannot be sure. It may always be that some dark horse candidate will emerge. It also has to be said that Mrs Ciller—and by the way, I was not exactly political advisor to her, in fact I have only met her once—is making something of a comeback compared to where she and her party were a few years ago.

  94. Could you give the Committee your views on what is the actual level of support for political Islamism in Turkey. What is the real danger posed to the Turkish state by political Islamism? Does it justify closing down Islamic political parties?
  (Mr Barchard) The European courts appear at the moment, subject to appeal, to think that it does. They take the view that it would lead inevitably to the Sharia, to the introduction of Islamic religious law, as in Pakistan and other countries, and that this is incompatible with human rights and political freedoms and the democratic system which the European Union supports. I would tend to go along with that opinion personally. I think that once you start going down that road it is fairly clear what the ultimate destination will be.

  95. How successfully are Turkish politicians co-operating to bring Turkey's laws and practice into line with the Copenhagen political criteria? Is not the current coalition partnership a recipe, at worst, for political deadlock or, at best, for very slow progress?
  (Mr Barchard) There has been considerable progress. I mean, the agenda perhaps has come up rather late in the day, but that I think is not entirely Turkey's fault because it was not until Helsinki that the starting button was pressed—but that is a different matter. But the agenda published a year ago by Mr Volkan Vural's office is an extraordinarily vast one. It contains a very large amount of legislative changes and it would pre-occupy any parliament for a very long time indeed. The main point of division came a few weeks ago in the laws on incitement and insults and things of that sort, where one of the parties took a more robustly traditional line than the others. It was fairly clear that it was in the minority and, after it did not succeed in passing wording along the lines it favoured, it said that it would stand by the decision of parliament as a whole.


  96. The political system appears almost to encourage fragmentation. Is there any possibility of a change in spite of the 10 per cent floor? There seems to be an inability to develop a strong party leadership within the current political system.
  (Mr Barchard) There were, of course, two strong parties, essentially a two-party system, in Turkey until about 1971 when it became fragmented. It is fairly clear that the two military coups which caused the closing down of parties and temporary banning of leaders and those kinds of things are a contributory factor to the political fragmentation in Turkey, so, as they recede into the remote past, it might be expected that there will be some coalescing together of political forces. But one must not forget that Turkey is above all a Mediterranean country and, as a Mediterranean country, patronage and cliente"lism are the essence of daily life, administration and politics. I fear that that is another force behind the fragmentation of the Turkish political system.

  97. To what extent, therefore, are the parties the creation of or at least the fiefdom of powerful individuals?
  (Mr Barchard) There, again, I fear there has been a bit of reverse political development in Turkey since the 1950s and 1960s. In those days you had parties which were clearly rather more similar to the parties which we have in Britain: they interlinked large numbers of individuals of different outlooks. Since then party leaders have become very much stronger for a number of reasons. One of them is that they now control the right to stand as a candidate at general elections and that of course leads to the elimination of opposition inside that political party. If someone falls out with their party leader, they know that they will be left off the list at the next general election.

  98. And possibly lead to corruption. How endemic is corruption in Turkish society?
  (Mr Barchard) There is no objective way to answer that question. Clearly it is a topic—

  99. You have lived there for a long time, you have seen the society in operation.
  (Mr Barchard) I was certainly never forced to give a bribe or anything of that sort in all my time in Turkey. One was aware that some institutions are looser than others, but I do not think, again . . . I think the problem in Turkish society is actually a rather different one. It is a question of giving adequate rewards to civil servants on both sides—I mean, making sure they are paid on time, making sure that they are given expenses when they travel and those kinds of things. It is because many people have a feeling of being ripped off by the system that they feel they have a right to rip it back a bit.

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