Tuesday,17 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1195, (1-7 May 2014)
Tuesday,17 October, 2017
Issue 1195, (1-7 May 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Ongoing crisis in Turkey

Police leave has been cancelled across Turkey in the run-up to today’s International Workers Day celebrations, writes Sayed Abdel-Maguid from Ankara

Turkey
Turkey
Al-Ahram Weekly

It is 1 May, International Workers Day, and it looks as if it is not going to unfold like any previous Workers Day in Turkey.

Istanbul at dawn has the air of a military barracks, and to judge by the measures announced by the Turkish Interior Ministry a state of emergency has been declared. Policemen of all ranks have had their leaves cancelled, and some 39,000 of them have been deployed across the Asian and European sides of the erstwhile Ottoman capital. 19,000 have been stationed in the vicinity of Taksim Square alone.

The Turkish authorities are determined to avert another Gezi Park, the demonstrations that erupted in Istanbul’s iconic Square last year and quickly evolved into the most formidable challenge to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) since it came to power in 2002.

The Gezi Park protests exposed to the world the repressive bent of the AKP government, whose leader, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, made it clear many days ago that he would not tolerate celebrations in the Square this year. His government has since backed this stance with a ban on demonstrations in Taksim Square and stern warnings against any law-breaking.

However, there is no law that can justify a ban on demonstrations and peaceful assemblies in Taksim Square. There are only bureaucratic decrees which, in the opinion of the president of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party Selahattin Demirtas, democratically minded people are almost duty bound to disregard.

Indeed, one lawyer has brought the ban on demonstrations in Taksim Square to the Supreme Constitutional Court on the grounds that it violates Article 34 of the constitution, which guarantees people’s right to free assembly and peaceful demonstration without prior notice.

The lawyer also pointed out that six years ago the EU Human Rights Court issued a warning against a similar measure on the grounds that it violated Article 11 of the EU Charter.

A broad range of labour syndicates and left-leaning movements have declared that they will refuse to abide by measures they describe as illegitimate.

A pall of apprehension hovers over Istanbul as a result, especially given the developments over the past week that have only strengthened people’s resolve to celebrate May Day this year.

Observers of Turkish affairs had to rub their eyes when they saw headlines blazoned across the front pages of widely circulating newspapers such as Milliyet proclaiming that the prime minister’s lawyer had filed a suit with the Supreme Constitutional Court accusing social-networking sites of violating his privacy and slandering members of his family.

Erdogan has launched another phase in his battle against what has become known as the graft-probe scandal that has haunted him and his government since 17 December last year. The scandal led to the resignation of the ministers of interior, finance and housing, all of whom had sons implicated in the probes, and soon it encroached on the Erdogan family itself when Erdogan’s son Bilal was summoned for questioning.

In filing his suit Erdogan set yet another precedent in the history of the Turkish Republic. Here was the prime minister suing the state (as represented by the National Telecommunications Authority) and demanding compensation to the tune of YTL50,000 (US$24,000).

 The prime minister’s move was described as the “first of its kind” by the Union of Turkish Bar Associations (TBB) head Metin Feyzioglu. A professor of law at Ankara University, Feyzioglu said that Erdogan’s application to the Constitutional Court was unlawful on the grounds that domestic remedies had not been exhausted.

Erdogan claims that in allowing telephone recordings obtained by wiretapping to remain posted on social-networking sites such as Twitter and YouTube, the state has violated his right to privacy.

Here is a prime minister who claims to have turned to the Constitutional Court because there is no other alternative to remedy his complaint. Yet, ironically that same prime minister, who belongs to a party that calls itself Justice and Development, has openly declared that he does not respect the same court’s ruling to lift the bans on Twitter and YouTube that were imposed last month. The government has yet to implement the ruling.

Erdogan is not the only Turkish politician turning to the courts. Mansur Yavas, the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) mayoral candidate for Ankara in the municipal elections that were held on 30 March, filed an appeal with the Constitutional Court last week over the poll results.

On 3 April, Yavas filed a petition with the Supreme Electoral Commission (YSK), challenging the results declared in Ankara and asking for a recount. The commission rejected the petition, dismissed the evidence of problems with vote-counting and outright fraud that the CHP had assembled, and confirmed the victory of AKP candidate Melih Gölçek.

In order to justify turning to the Constitutional Court, Yavas had argued that what had happened to him was a violation of human rights and EU standards in this regard.

Yavas’s appeal to the Constitutional Court occurred one day after the YSK cancelled the results of another mayoral vote in the northwestern city of Yalova. In this contest, the CHP candidate had won and was confirmed the victor over the AKP candidate after a recount.

Nevertheless, the YSK ordered a re-run of the elections, due to be held on 1 June. Understandably, the CHP has interpreted this as a deliberate twist of the knife by the “independent” commission and confirmation that it has become another branch of government subordinated to the ruling party and its leader Erdogan.

The Yalova contest had been a close one, and the AKP candidate had initially won by a single vote. However, when the ballots were recounted after the CHP had appealed for a recount and in the presence of tightened measures to prevent rigging, the rival CHP candidate was declared the victor by six votes.

The AKP then appealed to the YSK to cancel the results on the grounds that some ballots had been cast by persons who had been illegible to vote. It complied.

Tensions between the executive and judiciary were notched up further last week when the head of the Constitutional Court, Hasim Kilic, lambasted the Erdogan government for what he said were its attempts to undermine judicial autonomy.

In a celebration marking the 52nd anniversary of the establishment of the Constitutional Court, Kilic responded to insinuations that Erdogan had made against the judiciary, delivering a powerful counterpunch to the AKP leader and his clique whose frowning faces were present in the audience.

The chief justice reminded the Turkish people that its function was to defend the values and principles of democracy, one of them being judicial autonomy. He said that the Constitutional Court would not bow to instructions from anybody, a remark widely interpreted as being directed against Erdogan.

Given the Court’s commitment to the defence of democracy and the rule of law, it may overturn at least parts of the controversial intelligence law ratified by President Abdullah Gül last week. Opponents of the law, which regulates Turkey’s National Intelligence Organisation (MIT), charge that it gives the agency sweeping powers and places it beyond any accountability.

The question remains as to how the opposition will respond to the crackdown on the May Day celebrations. Part of that will be answered today, as Turkish labour organisations and political forces commemorate International Workers Day. Further answers will come over the next days and weeks.

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