Sunday,22 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1277, (7 - 13 January 2016)
Sunday,22 July, 2018
Issue 1277, (7 - 13 January 2016)

Ahram Weekly

‘Panorama of the absurd’

Erdogan’s machinations continue, with 2016 likely to see pressure spike on his foes in parliament, the ultimate goal being to change the constitution in his favour, writes Sayed Abdel-Meguid

Al-Ahram Weekly

People’s faces lit up with smiles as heavy rains turned to snowfall that covered the Anatolian green in a sparkling white blanket. They were beginning preparations for what has become an integral part of the winter season, despite the thundering bearded zealots who roam the streets railing against Christmas, the Christmas tree and all manifestations of the “crusader” holidays.

Millions of ordinary Turkish citizens celebrated New Year’s Eve, as always. Ironically, in those same streets where the fanatics thundered, veiled women were selling lottery tickets. The Milli Piyango, or National Lottery, is a governmental institution. Apparently, its officials thought that by adding a religious touch they would be able to attract more dreamers of instant wealth.

 In all events, once the celebrating had ended and people awoke the following day, frowns returned to people’s faces, generally mixed with a strong dose of bewilderment. Perhaps it is with strong reason that a Turkish wit called 1 January, an official holiday in Turkey, the day of the Turkish “panorama of the absurd.”

Naturally, the main reason is Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who, in relatively frequent intervals, emits an utterance that raises eyebrows and stirs controversy. As 2015 segued into 2016 he may well have outdone himself.

Erdogan is driven by a single obsession: changing the system of government from a parliamentary one to a “Turkish-style” presidential system. He argues that the current system is holding Turkey back, even though it is the parliamentary system that enabled Turkey to shine in comparison to other countries in the Islamic world, at least before the rise of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (JDP).

In fact, were it not for this system, which was established in the late 1940s, the JDP and its leader would certainly not be where they are today. In addition, the current decline is not the fault of this system but rather the product of deviation away from the democracy that had been in place for several decades, apart from the periods of the three military coups which, in total, comes to about five years.

Still, Erdogan continues to push for the promulgation of a new constitution in order to replace that “non-democratic” system he claims was the work of the generals who engineered the coup in 1980. Many fear that the presidential system that would be created by the new constitution would be a dictatorial one in which all powers reside in the hands of the chief executive.

And Erdogan, himself, has just given further grounds for this fear. From aboard his luxurious presidential airplane on his way home from Saudi Arabia, the Turkish president issued a statement suggesting that what Turkey needed was a central authority similar to that Hitler had founded in Germany. Ironically, the man who once flew into a rage when a writer compared him to Hitler has suddenly cited the Nazi Führer as a model.

Not surprisingly, Erdogan’s slip, if that was what it was, precipitated a flood of analyses and commentaries. Perhaps the driving question of all this inquiry was: is there a method to this madness that has nothing to do with the democracy to which JDP officials pay lip service?

Sözcü, a leading opposition newspaper, addressed a list questions to the occupant of the sumptuous presidential palace, the Aksaray: If a presidential system is established will terrorism end? Will the price of the dollar go down against the lira? The lira is now worth less than half it was five years ago; the dollar stands at 2.92 Turkish lira while in 2010 it stood at 1.40.

Will per capita income increase? Will the government raise civil service salaries? Will a presidential system limit corruption, nepotism and bribery? Will the judiciary become autonomous and impartial? Will standards of education increase?

Will there be greater stability and security? Will Turkey’s relations with its neighbours revive? And last but not least: Will Turkey be the greatest nation in the region?

Sadly, the impartial observer senses the answers are all in the negative. The only prospects are deeper gloom, further regression and more bitterness and despair for the Turkish people.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, for his part, has offered few convincing justifications for changing the system. Still, he defends it, however weakly.

The presidential system is the most appropriate system for emergent Turkey, he says, despite the fact that, as prime minister, he is the man in charge — theoretically — under the current system.

In this regard, one might also ask, if the presidential system is so great why had Erdogan not promoted it at the time he was prime minister? Here, too, the answer is obvious: he will tolerate no rivals. Which brings us back to his comment regarding the system of government under Hitler: slip or not, it betrays his intentions.

The “panorama of the absurd” reveals another facet of Erdogan’s authoritarian drive. This one targets political party plurality. The arguments have been ready to hand and only needed a pretext.

This was handed to Erdogan and the ruling party on a silver platter as the direction of the official glare honed in on the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and its leaders for ostensibly working to divide the country by advocating Kurdish self-rule in southeast Turkey.

Now here is where a couple of provisions of the current constitution (even if it is the work of “coup-makers”) come in handy. Will the government shut down the PDP? No, such a thought had never entered their heads. But it will work to lift immunity from PDP co-chairpersons first, its parliamentary deputies second, and PDP municipal chiefs third. The public prosecutor has already begun to launch extensive investigations.

It takes little mental strain to work out the intentions here. The PDP has come into Erdogan’s crosshairs not because it is jeopardising Turkey’s territorial unity but because it still stands in the way of his dream of a presidential system.

The plan, therefore, is to eliminate PDP members from parliament, which will necessitate elections in their constituencies to fill their seats. The results of the polls are certain to be satisfactory the third time around, more so than on 1 November, and the JDP will be rewarded with at least the number of seats it takes in order to bring a constitutional amendment to a referendum.

Some will argue that it is hardly conceivable that the people in southeast Turkey, large numbers of whom had voted for the PDP, would vote JDP, especially given the curfews, the electricity cut-offs, the food shortages, the soaring prices of goods and services, and the fuel and electricity price hikes that greeted them with the new year.

To this, others might respond, “But who would have imagined that the ruling party would win 49.5 per cent of the vote on 1 November in the aftermath of the horrific terrorist attack in Ankara that exposed severe deficiencies in the national security services?”

 The culture of fear that is being cultivated will drive thousands to vote for their own executioner.

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