— The Erimtan Angle —

Archive for January, 2017

Forging an Absolute Presidency: Moving towards a Referendum

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The whole world at present is experiencing a shift towards authoritarianism, with Donald Trump’s formal inauguration as the 45th U.S. President arguably acting as an ominous portent of things to come. Trump, or the Drumpf, as I like to call him in reference to his “grandfather Friedrich Drumpf [who] came to the United States in 1885”,has a clear counterpart in the figure of Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s first popularly elected President, whom I like to refer to as the Prez.Since about the year 2010, Erdoğan has been arguing that Turkey’s parliamentary system should be replaced by a presidential one and the day following the Drumpf’s inauguration, on Saturday, 21 January 2017, he seems to have overcome yet another hurdle blocking the way: Turkey’s “parliament voted 339-142 to make the president the head of the executive and abolish the job of prime minister, triggering a referendum on the proposal and putting Erdogan one step away from building a power center unrivaled since the days of parliamentary founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. In Turkey’s system, amendments to the constitution need to be approved by 367 of 550 members to become law. Proposals that receive between 330 and 367 votes can be referred to a plebescite”.3

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In the wake of this momentous parliamentary vote, Tayyip Erdoğan gave another televised speech: “It’s still early to call a referendum date, we will share it when we pick up some momentum . . . We see that our people favour a constitutional referendum and a president with party ties. We wouldn’t attempt this otherwise”.Ever since he emerged on Turkey’s political scene in the early 1990s, it has been Erdoğan‘s fervent desire to stifle and eventually obliterate the seeming secularization of society and the personality cult surrounding the figure of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. And his favoured line of reasoning in this respect has always been referencing the fact that the Turkish population-at-large had been largely left untouched by Atatürk‘s reforms that had transformed the religion of Islam into the state’s obedient handmaiden via the Directorate of Religious Affairs (or Diyanet, in Turkish) and propagated a lenient and permissive attititude towards the Prophet’s many rules, regulations and restrictions. As I wrote in 2014, “Tayyip Erdogan is . . . determined to re-introduce an overt Islamic discourse into the country’s public and political life . . . Turkey’s original 1924 Constitution also contained the phrase that that Islam constitutes the religion of the state’ (Article 2), which was subsequently removed four years later and might very well be set to return now that the AKP is ruling the land” and Tayyip Erdogan is set to become the nation’s first Absolute President. After all, “Erdogan also appears determined to fashion his own personality cult”.His ultimate goal thus appears to be replacing the figure of Atatürk in the hearts and minds of the Turkish citizenry.

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Bloomberg’s Hacaoglu and Kozok explain that “even before Saturday’s vote, Erdogan had already arrogated to himself powers unusual for his ceremonial post [of President of the Republic]. He’s led sessions of the policy-making cabinet, and forced out the previous prime minister, [his erstwhile advisor and mentor] Ahmet Davutoglu, after he tried to assert his authority as head of the executive branch. While the AK Party [or AKP] lacks enough seats to carry parliament alone, the package was approved with backing from the nationalist opposition MHP. Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said Jan. 17 that his party was making the changes together with the nationalist MHP . . . If the legislative package is approved in a referendum, Erdogan’s ties to the ruling AK Party will be immediately restored while most of the measures, including powers granted to Erdogan to call elections or declare a state of emergency, will go into effect when the presidential and parliamentary elections are held Nov. 3, 2019. The legislative package, meanwhile, limits the parliament’s oversight over the executive branch and allows the president’s office to issue decrees with the force of law . . . Bulent Turan, a [parliamentary] whip from the Islamist-rooted [AKP], which Erdogan co-founded, rejected opposition claims that the amendments would create an elected dictatorship, saying they sought to allow for greater government oversight and to speed up decision making”.Turan also told the Anadolu Ajansı that parliament has fulfilled its task. Now it’s the people’s turn. Whatever decision our people take, we will all accept that decision“.7

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In contrast, the scholar of constitutional law Prof. Dr. İbrahim Özden Kaboğlu opines matter-of-factly that the proposed amendment effectively “phases out the parliament and takes power away from the hands of the government. The president moves to the center of executive power, reshaping the country’s regime around one man”.8

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1 “Make Donald Drumpf Again, #2” The Erimtan Angle (08 March 2016). https://sitanbul.wordpress.com/2016/03/08/make-donald-drumpf-again-2/.

2 C. Erimtan, “The Gezi anniversary and Turkey’s future under ‘President’ Erdogan” RT Op-Edge (04 June 2014). https://www.rt.com/op-edge/163620-turkey-future-gezi-anniversary/.

3 Selcan Hacaoglu and Firat Kozok, “Turkey Parliament Triggers Referendum on Presidential System” Bloomberg (21 Jan 2017). https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-01-21/turkey-parliament-triggers-referendum-on-presidential-system-iy6kd8n6.

4 Selcan Hacaoglu and Firat Kozok, “Turkey Parliament Triggers Referendum on Presidential System”.

5 C. Erimtan, “The Gezi anniversary and Turkey’s future under ‘President’ Erdogan” .

6 Selcan Hacaoglu and Firat Kozok, “Turkey Parliament Triggers Referendum on Presidential System”.

7 Hatice Özdemir, “AK Parti Grup Başkanvekili Turan: Milletimiz ne karar verirse hepimiz o karara razı olacağız”AA (21 Jan 2017). http://aa.com.tr/tr/politika/ak-parti-grup-baskanvekili-turan-milletimiz-ne-karar-verirse-hepimiz-o-karara-razi-olacagiz/732157.

8  Selcan Hacaoglu and Firat Kozok, “Turkey Parliament Triggers Referendum on Presidential System”.

Forging an Absolute Presidency: Standing Protests across Turkey

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Turkey has now been ruled by Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (or AKP) for many many years. The AKP has effectively ushered in the nation’s post-Kemalist era, with the AKP-led governments doing their urmost to undermine the legacy of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and an end to the so-called Kemalist experiment commonly referred to as “Turkish Secularism“.1 And since 2014, Erdoğan has been acting as the first popularly elected President of the Republic (hence, I like to refer to him now as the Prez).Traditionally, the post of the president was primarily symbolic in nature, with the incumbent acting as the figurehead of the state while the nation was governed by the Prime Minister and his cabinet in Parliament (or TBMM). But Tayyip Erdoğan’s has always set his sights higher and wider, and as I wrote in 2014, Erdoğan’s main goal was always “to re-introduce an overt Islamic discourse into the country’s public and political life, a situation which is all but normal in a country like Egypt, even if ruled by somebody like [General-now-President] Sisi. Turkey’s original 1924 Constitution also contained the phrase that that ‘Islam’ constitutes the ‘religion of the state’ (Article 2), which was subsequently removed four years later and might very well be set to return now that the AKP is ruling the land” for the foreseeable future.2 On a more personal level though, since 2010, rumours have been going round the nation that the ruling party then still headed by Erdoğan himself intended to alter Turkey’s political order from a parliamentary system to a presidential one, similar to the situation in neighbouring Russia or in the faraway United States. And now, at the outset of the calendar year 2017, the TBMM is in the process of accepting a series of constitiutional amendments paving the way for a popular referedum that would rubber-stamp a presidential system and turn the erstwhile denizen of the impoverished neighbourhood of Kasımpaşa into the nation’s all-powerful strongman, holding all the reins of power and wielding absolute authority. Or, as I wrote in the summer of 2014: “In the end, it is my contention that Erdogan wants to become another Atatürk for the Turkish nation. Whereas the first President (1923-38) ushered his fellow-Turks into the modern world, arguably shedding any excessive traits of their Islamic persuasion in the process, Erdogan wants to be the President of the Republic starting 2014 to complete this task by means of reviving the Turks’ ties to their Muslim creed and uniting all the ethnic groups and sub-groups living on Anatolian soil under the banner of Islam”.3

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As I posted some time ago: “On 10 January 2017 the Turkish press reported that Turkey’s parliament [or TBMM] . . . formally launch[ed] debates on a constitutional amendment package that will usher in a powerful presidential system after lawmakers from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) passed a motion through parliament. The initial vote in parliament was to decide whether to proceed with a debate on 18 articles of the constitutional amendment package, which was drafted by the AKP and MHP‘“.And now the first round of negotiations about the [constitutional] changes including the presidential system passed at Turkish Parliament and protests against these changes immediately started. People who say “We stand up against dictatorship were taking the action to stand up at 4:00 pm in their homes, offices, schools, cafes, streets across Turkey . . . [The] We stand up against dictatorship action was performed with the participation of hundreds of people from offices to cafes, houses to streets. The action, spread from social media to Street, will continue for 3 days”.5

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These protest actions are an obvious reference to the Gezi protests of the summer months of 2013: “Erdem Gunduz is a legend. And all he had to do to earn this status was to stand completely still. Gunduz, a performance artist and left-Kemalist, began to stand still in Taksim Square on Monday [, 17 June 2013] at 6pm local time. He stood, facing the Ataturk cultural centre, until 2am. It was a silent, stubborn and dignified protest against the brutality of the police response to demonstrators, which had culminated in a sinister weekend assault whose targets included medics and staff who treated the wounded. Indeed, the ministry of health went so far as to threaten to withdraw the licences of medical personnel who treated protesters injured by police”.6

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The protests taking place now have been announced as follows: On January 17 at 5:00 pm, on January 18 at 6:00 pm, thousands of people will take theaction to stand up against the presidential system . . . In Ankara, hundreds of people including CHP deputies took the stance to stand up at 4:00 pm. Deputies sitting in cafes on Kızılay Konur Street invited everyone to stand up. After the stand up action carried out by the applause, they walked through Konur Sokak. Deputies invited everyone to participate in the action to take for 3 days. Action to stand up took place in several points of Ankara, the road was closed to traffic“.7

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1. C. Erimtan, “Secularism, beer and bikinis” Hürriyet Daily News (03 Oct 2011). http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/default.aspx?pageid=438&n=secularism-beer-and-bikinis-2011-03-09.

2 C. Erimtan, “The Gezi anniversary and Turkey’s future under President Erdogan” RT Op-Edge (04 June 2014). https://www.rt.com/op-edge/163620-turkey-future-gezi-anniversary/.

C. Erimtan, “The Gezi anniversary and Turkey’s future under President Erdogan”

4 “Turkey’s New Constitution: Forging an Absolute Presidency”The Erimtan Angle (13 Jan 2017). https://sitanbul.wordpress.com/2017/01/13/turkeys-new-constitution-forging-an-absolute-presidency/.

5 “New Protests Launched in Turkey, called: ‘No to dictatorship’ standing at home, at work, on streets” Washington Hatti (16 Jan 2017). http://washingtonhatti.com/2017/01/16/new-protests-launched-in-turkey-called-no-to-dictatorship-standing-at-home-at-work-on-streets/.

Richard Seymour, “Turkey’s ‘standing man’ shows how passive resistance can shake a state”The Guardian (18 June 2013). https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/jun/18/turkey-standing-man.

7 “New Protests Launched in Turkey, called: ‘No to dictatorship’ standing at home, at work, on streets”.

Turkey’s New Constitution: Forging an Absolute Presidency

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On 10 January 2017 the Turkish press reported that “Turkey’s parliament [or TBMM] will formally launch debates on a constitutional amendment package that will usher in a powerful presidential system after lawmakers from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) passed a motion through parliament. The initial vote in parliament was to decide whether to proceed with a debate on 18 articles of the constitutional amendment package, which was drafted by the AKP and MHP. After lengthy and tense arguments inside and outside parliament, 338 lawmakers voted in favor of the motion while 134 voted against. Two lawmakers abstained and five cast blank votes in a secret ballot. Some 480 lawmakers in the 550-seat parliament were present for the vote. During the vote, Health Minister Recep Akdağ voted in the open in violation of parliamentary bylaws. ‘I’m committing a crime; what’s it to you? Am I going to ask you?’ he is heard saying on a video taken by an opposition MP. During the discussions, PM Binali Yıldırım said the regulations outlined in the offer would solve the problems that Turkey will face in the future . . . Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) lawmaker Deniz Baykal criticized the entire bill, saying the content of the charter was not known well by the public and that the charter gave the impression that it was being prepared in a haste”.[1]

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[1] “AKP, MHP win 1st vote in debate for presidency” Hürriyet Daily News (10 Jan 2017). http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/turkish-parliament-approves-launching-of-constitution-talks-by-338-votes.aspx?pageID=238&nID=108344&NewsCatID=338. .