Examination of Witness (Questions 89 -
TUESDAY 12 FEBRUARY 2002
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
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 youI 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 Unionactually 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
(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 Cillerand by the way, I was not exactly political
advisor to her, in fact I have only met her onceis 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
(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 pressedbut
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 sidesI 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.