OBG talks to Abdullah Gul
OBG: Turkey's parliament is controlled by a single party for the first time since 1987. What led to the Justice and Development Party's (AKP) resounding electoral victory in your opinion and what affect does single-party rule have on Turkey?
GUL: Prior to the election Turkey was governed by several coalition governments. There have been so many small and large parties in parliament over the past 15 years. We have seen the deepest economic crises in the Republican period. Political instability led to economic instability. Businesses were unable to forecast and plan their investments. Foreign investors no longer thought of Turkey as an attractive destination for their investments. It was because of the lack of leadership. Without strong leadership, no strong and correct policies in industry, or the economy could be pursued. Also, because of the coalition governments we had mismanagement. Each party pulled in a different direction and the people paid the price.
Because of these difficulties our party became the hope of the nation. The Justice and Development Party (AKP) was founded just two years ago. When we were forming our party, the alternative name of the party was "Reformists". The people call us reformists and we consider ourselves reformists. When we established this party, we debated all the critical issues. The leading figures of the party were well known by the people. Single-party government has brought Turkey political stability. It has brought better management and an administration determined to improve efficiency.
After the election, a new chapter marked by reforms and governmental harmony was opened for Turkey. So far, we have been successful. We have had two governments since the election. I led the first and I started reducing the number of ministers from 38 to 23. This was the first shock. Then there were many state organisations that fell under the responsibility of the prime ministry, so I divided them and attached them to individual ministers. I made the prime ministry the coordinator. Then also, we were very keen to carry out economic reforms together with the IMF and World Bank. This programme had been started, but had been undermined by the lack of a unified government. Our first aim was to support democracy. We carried out many reform packages to address this.
As a result of these efforts, this year's Turkey is very different from last year's Turkey. Today's Turkey is more democratic, more transparent. Today's politicians are more accountable. We have passed four reform packages as part of preparing for EU accession negotiations. As a result, the Copenhagen political criteria have been met in Turkey now -- on paper. It is now time to implement them.
OBG: How confident are you that these laws can be effectively implemented by December 2003 when the EU will consider providing Turkey with a date for beginning negotiations?
GUL: Of course, passing these laws is important, but implementation is most important. I assure you that we will implement these laws. We will enforce these laws. We will prove that all laws passed in parliament are being implemented in this country. This is essential for us. We cannot tolerate any failure in this respect because the EU's progress report does not report the laws on paper, but rather their implementation.
OBG: The AKP traces its roots to two parties that were banned. The AKP is often referred to as 'Islamist.'. What is your party's relationship with the military and how does the party see itself?
GUL: You are correct. The two parties were closed in the past. I was a chairmen and member of those parties. After the last party was closed, we had a convention and debated all the issues, exchanged ideas and opinion. Here the relation with religion is crucial. We debated this issue in depth and decided that religion is an individual thing. Religious freedom for all the religions is important and we work to secure that. Everybody should be free to choose his own way. We believe that having a religious party helps neither the religion nor the country.
Separation between religion and the state occurs at the individual level. As a state we should insure individual freedoms. Individually, we want to follow what we believe. As a party we do not accept the Islamist label.
OBG: Cyprus will enter the EU in May 2004. Is there still a chance for a comprehensive settlement on the divided island by that date?
GUL: Cyprus is a critical issue. From the very beginning my government declared that no solution is not a solution on Cyprus. We should work hard for a solution, but that solution must be satisfactory for both sides. Otherwise, the critical problem will not be solved. The Turkish side took some confidence building measures. Hundreds of thousands of people visited both sides. We think that creating a new atmosphere through confidence building measures is needed for creating lasting peace. We are doing our best, but the Greek side should approach the matter in a fair way.
OBG: How will Turkey's EU application be affected if no settlement is reached?
GUL: The criteria for joining the European Union are clear. There are no different criteria for different countries. These criteria are well known. The Copenhagen political criteria must be fulfilled before membership can be assumed, but the Cyprus issue is not a condition for Turkish membership. Having said this, solving the Cyprus problem will create a better climate for understanding. We are working hard and we expect the same commitment from the other side because when we declare peace on Cyprus we should be certain that everything has been done to ensure that it will endure.
OBG: How has Turkey's relationship with the United States been affected by the Iraq crisis and did parliament's decision not to allow the United States to launch an attack from Turkish soil forsake Turkey's influence in the future political makeup of Iraq?
GUL: Before the war, the United States asked Turkey for its full cooperation. We debated this openly and then parliament decided not to have a full cooperation. Instead, Turkey contributed in different ways. This might have created disappointment at first, but it was a democratic decision and so both sides respected it. There were some difficulties over the past month, but these have been overcome. My recent meetings in Washington with the Vice-President Cheney, Secretary of Defence Rumsfeld and National Security Advisor Rice were very successful. Both sides repeated the importance of the strategic alliance. These relations cannot be bound on Iraq. The relationship is very wide and very deep. We will continue to cooperate. Turkey has become the centre for the logistical support for the US army.
OBG: What about Turkey's upcoming decision about providing peacekeeping troops to Iraq?
GUL: The request arose only recently. It needs very serious assessment. We are studying the situation. If we see that we can contribute to the normalisation of Iraq, then we might be more inclined. A stable, peaceful, democratic Iraq will have a direct positive affect of Turkey. So we want to see the Iraqi people at peace, in charge of their own resources. And we want to see a region at peace with itself, a region in which economic and business cooperation can flourish. Therefore we want to contribute, but this is clearly a very serious situation, one that we are in the process of evaluating at the moment.
OBG: Turkey's application to the EU has received a lot of attention. Can you address Turkey's relationship with the Arab world and its role in the greater Middle East?
GUL: We are one of the essential countries in this region. Turkey is a Muslim, democratic and secular country. We have some shortcomings, but we are carrying out many reforms. We have corrected some of our weak points and we will work hard towards perfection. The Justice and Development Party needed these reforms. It has helped solidify our reputation as a reformist party. These reforms are also important for the region. They can serve as a good example for other countries in the Middle East. We have proved that a Muslim country can be democratic, transparent, and comfortable with the modern world. This is the mission of the party and the government -- to show that you can be both modern and democratic by respecting your own values. I hope this will have a positive impact on Muslim countries. There should be equality between women and men. There should be accountability and transparency. These values are very important and I don't see any conflict between these values and religion. Therefore, we should renew ourselves and take the initiatives for reform. We should all put our house in order for the sake of our people.