Page last updated at 16:51 GMT, Wednesday, 30 July 2008 17:51 UK

Turkey's urban elite wary of AKP

The Turkish Constitutional Court has decided not to ban the ruling AK Party - a move that may avoid a full-blown political crisis but that may not satisfy many secularist Turks.

Shortly before Wednesday's eagerly awaited court ruling the BBC's Paul Moss asked Turks in Istanbul what they thought of the AKP.

The upmarket Istanbul neighbourhood of Nisantasi is a fine place for a journalist to canvass opinion.

Shoppers in Nisantasi, Istanbul
Affluent Nisantasi contrasts starkly with rural Turkey

The chic and wealthy people who shop here tend to speak good English - and if you ask them what they think of the AKP they often furnish you not just with an answer, but a full-scale rant.

"They are trying to brainwash people," one young woman shouts at me. "They are fakes. They are wearing a mask to hide what they really are."

And Turkey's government, according to this woman, is really a group of Islamic fundamentalists bent on imposing their religious practices on the whole population.

"I like to go out," she says, "I like to go bars, and listen to loud music. But while I am out, these people are going to mosques. They just want you to believe that's the right way of life."

This accusation is no longer merely the talk of the streets - it motivated a court case that threatened to bring down the government.

Reforms in spotlight

The AKP insists it is a modern, Western-leaning collection of liberal-minded people, one that has introduced sweeping economic and social reforms in Turkey, to prepare for membership of the European Union.

Nursuna Memecan, AK Party MP
We made the people of Anatolia stronger, more self-confident
Nursuna Memecan
AK Party MP

But prosecutors charged the AKP with undermining the country's secular constitution. They said it wanted eventually to impose Sharia law, and they tried to get it banned.

Quite right too, another Nisantasi passer-by told me. "There are many people who are not educated, and who cannot think too much about politics. These are the people who voted for the AKP."

It is a comment that betrays perhaps rather more than this shopper intended.

Across Istanbul you find that objections to the AKP extend beyond religion or ideology - often it is more a matter of deep-seated resentment. There is a deep divide between Turkey's urban centres and the rural heartland of Anatolia, where the AKP is strongest. Indeed, according to one AKP member of parliament, that divide was behind the court case.

"This government has made many social and economic reforms," said Nursuna Memecan, "and we made the people of Anatolia stronger, more self-confident.

"The elitist groups in the cities are afraid. And they are supporting the closure of our party."

Test of democracy

In theory, the move against the AKP was made by an independent judiciary, operating only out of respect for the law and the constitution.

Only this week, a senior prosecutor was quoted warning that the AKP's policies would undermine the Turkish state. He cited a failed attempt by the AKP to allow women the right to wear headscarves in universities.

But the political commentator Cengiz Candar will have none of this.

"It's rubbish!" he yells at me, in his booming voice.

"The judiciary is not independent. This government galvanised a lot of opposition from segments of this society, and these segments were looking at ways to remove them from office. This is the most innovative way: through a 'judicial coup'. This is a life and death struggle for democratisation in Turkey."

I put this point to the wealthy shoppers of Nisantasi, so desperate to seem modern and Western - surely they cared about democracy, didn't they?

In fact, many did say that although they hated the AKP, they would not want to see an elected government removed from office by an act of the courts. But neither, it seems, do they want their way of life in any way threatened.

"The AKP is an Anatolian type of party; it's not my type," one tells me proudly. "I am 62, I'm a new-generation woman, going to restaurants, or shopping. We live in this kind of Turkey - and we love it."


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