Ömer Faruk Şen: “Turkey Might Shift to Presidential Republic a la Turca”

Turkey is approaching the decisive constitutional referendum. Simultaneously, the country is involved into the spreading Syrian conflict and counter-terrorism activities. Apparently, Ankara’s relations with Brussels are at a historically low point.  To make sense of all that, we discuss the above and relevant issues with Ömer Faruk Şen, the Research Assistant in TOBB Economy and Technology University in Ankara and member of the 3H Movement.

Is Turkey now officially at war in Syria? Have you got the draft army or a professional contract armed forces?

If we define “war” which is traditionally considered as an armed conflict between at least two states that is declared as a formal act, no, we are not at war. However, if we take into account the changing nature of war, yes, we are surely at war. In Syria, the Turkish army has been performing ongoing cross-border operation which is called “Operation Euphrates Shield” with its ground and air forces since 24 August 2016. Within the context of operation, the army has been supporting rebels against DAESH and PYD, with its military facilities to expand rebel-dominated territories and to secure its borders. However, Turkish army is supporting rebels not only with its air forces and equipment, it also engages in close combat with DAESH and rarely with PYD. During the operation we have lost more than 40 soldiers in total. If we look at the casualties in being militarily in another country, I can easily say that we are at war in Syria, even more than Russia is in it.

Turkey has draft army. Besides, Turkish army has professional contract personnel especially for combatting with terrorism in the field in order to avoid loses of unprofessional and inexperienced soldiers.

Should we assume the nation is now backing up the president? Or, instead is it still divided?

Turkish people have always been divided by any subject as in the case of the President, too. However, it is clear that Erdogan has increased his public support at an unprecedented scalefollowing the failed coup attempt on 15th of June, war on terror at home and cross-border operation in Syria. As a result of these and other extraordinary events, in my judgement, 2016 can be considered as the best year of Erdogan about obtaining public support and political power. In relation to these events, he has been clamorously using anti-Western rhetoric and nationalist-revanchist discourse more than ever before in order to put the nation behind himself. He usually puts strong emphasis on the supremacy of “local” and “national” ones over the universal ones. Partisan media and AKP-trolls have also discovered to appeal to conspiracy theories so as to manage the negative impacts of these failed policies on the support level.

I think Erdogan’s assured public support is little more than 50 percent. In some matters his support rises up to 70% or more such asarresting HDP MPs, Operation Euphrates Shield and eradicating the Gulenist organization. On the other side, there are many issues that undermine expected level of his support in future such as economic problems, crony capitalist relations, approximation with Putin and Assad regime by taking steps backward extraordinary assertions, unanswered questions about the 15th July night, rising casualties abroad on war and feeling of insecurity in big cities.

How did the Turkish society react to Donald Trump’s victory in the US race?

Well, I have to say that, there is no single reaction to Donald Trump’s victory in Turkish society. Nevertheless, especially after his xenophobic pledges about Muslims in the US and refugees, vast majority of society had negative thoughts about him. However, ironically, the government and partisan media look glad with his victory instead of Hillary Clinton. It’s because he had not talked of active involvement into the Middle East. It would make room for government in the field. They also seemed to be so happy with Trump’s victory bearing in mind that he would ignore Turkey’s domestic issues such as human rights, freedom of press and so on and that he wouldn’t support PYD in Syrian civil war. Besides, in considering that Clinton’s campaign has been supported financially by Fetullah Gulen and that Democrats have close ties with Gulenists, Donald Trump looked a lesser-evil candidate, therefore his victory was welcomed by government and its supporters.

Social democrats and leftists, especially environmentalists, of course were not satisfied with his victory. Liberals’ reactions were not united with concern to Trump’s victory. Some were glad with his pledges of less assertive foreign policy, andreducing income and corporate taxes. On the other hand, some liberals, like me, were not glad with the results in regard to his xenophobic discourse and trade-protectionist pledges during the campaign.

What is the current prospect of amending the Constitution to expand presidential powers?

Constitutional amendment package basically foresees to concentrate power in the hands of president without any significant checks and balances mechanism.

Firstly, it abolishes the prime ministry’s office and is giving all PM’s powers and tasks to president as head of the executive. Secondly, it removes the ban on the president being a member of a political party. Thirdly, it proposes that president is limited to being elected 2 five-year terms in total. These are amendments that are suitable for presidential systems anywhere. However, AKP and MHP are not content with it. Other articles make the proposed-system quite different from the ideal form of presidential system. Primarily, it ignores the strict separation of powers which is an essential condition in presidential system.To clarify, president will obtain an opportunity to rule by presidential decrees, which means violation of legislative branch.Another significant aspect of amendments, it proposes that presidential and parliamentary elections take place simultaneously on the same day. It is obvious that it will make hard to balance each other since president and composition of parliament are going to be shaped at the same day -in the wake of the same campaign. Taking into consideration that president being a member of a political party and that Turkish political parties’ are highly hierarchical and personalized structures, it is obvious that checks and balances will be improbable between the executive and legislative branches.

According to amendments, president will have the authority ofdissolution of parliament and to call an election for parliament, and himself as well. Moreover, if this (early election) happens at the second term of president for any reason, president will have an opportunity to runfor a third term. This exception basically means that one person can be a president not for 10 years at most, but for 14 years or so.

The big difference between ideal form of presidential system and proposed-one is also accepted by AKP elites, therefore they call the proposed-system “A la Turca presidential system”. According to them, such as Burhan Kuzu, purpose of the A la Turca presidential system is to resolvedeadlocks of the American system which usually restrict the president’s executive power.

As I said before, 2016 was the best year of Erdogan about obtaining public support and political power. Properly speaking, the devil (2016) you know is better than the devil you don’t (2017). In 2017, president Erdogan is about to entrench himself in power by shifting the governmental system via referendum from parliamentary system to presidential system which is, in reality, super presidential system, just like in Russia. After this systemic change actualized, I’ll tell you that, this power-concentrated system itself will create a lot of Erdogans, even after Erdogan’s rulership.

How’s the country economy doing after all these political shocks?

Well, Turkish economy had not been using its capacity for a very long time, in the meantime, these recent political shocks of course made the economy worse.

Turkish economy have had its first negative growth rate at the third quarter of2016 since 2009.Even though Turkish economy has 3 percent growth rates average recent years, this growth rates were caused mainly by consumer spending, and government expenditures instead of manufacturing industries. There is no significant productivity growth, which means that Turkey’s economic growth lacks quality, as Daron Acemoglu pointed. In 2016,Turkish Lira(TL) lost value to Dollar more than any developing country currency such as Mexican, or Argentine peso.Depreciation of Turkish Lira lead to a heavy debt burden on real sector beyond endurance, growing from 620 billion TL to 750 billion TL in a year.GDP per capita decreased below US $10.000 in 2015, down toUS $9.250. In 2016, it will be thereabouts. This amount of GDP per capitaclearly shows we came back to the same point of 2007, almost a decade ago.

Considering other macroeconomic issues of rising inflation and unemployment rates, I can easily say that Turkish economy is in turbulence.Contrary to global financial crisis in 2008, this time Turkish economy is in turbulence mainly because of domestic, specificallystructural and politicalproblems. Understanding this long-term turbulence in recent years is not a rocket science. AKP gave up makinginclusive institutional reforms the other way around first term of ruling. Moreover, it started tocorrupt the institutions in recent years.For instance, many regulatory and supervisory authorities, Constitutional Court, and so on have lost almost wholly their independence within this process; Central Bank, for example, as an independent economic institution was accused by the presidentfor that their rootsbeing“outside” with reference to keeping interest rate high, whereas the main problem was unstable political atmosphere mostly created by government itself. During the recent years crony capitalist attitudes became dominant between business and political classes/bureaucracy. Instead of market mechanism, getting close to the AKP is of vital importance for enrichment.

AKP also gave up doing political reforms. Peace process about Kurdish question, liberal constitution, democratic political parties law, transparent and accountable political class remain a memory of the past. A wide range of political and civil rights, as well as property rights are under intensive pressure in the late years. Moreover, it seems this process will be worse after the proposed-constitutional amendments.

This regression on institutional and political scales created unfavorable atmosphere for entrepreneurs and foreign investors as well as for fulfillingthe Turkish economy’s potential.

Is Turkey officially moving away from the EU, and if it is, where does it move to?

Shortly, I can say that Turkey is further away from the EU than ever before. Formal negotiations have not been advancing for many years. Even though Turkey and the EU were very close to revive their static relations through Refuge Deal, I can say that it is obliged to fail.

Political incidents during recent years in Turkey deepened the existing problems with EU. During this process, AKP and its leaders constantly expostulated the EU with regard to silence of the EU and European political leaders about failed coup attempt. European Parliament urged governments to freeze membership negotiations with regard to crackdown of Turkish government on political opposition, human rights and freedom of press.

The EU is losing its support in Turkish society, especially in conservative and nationalist section. It must be noted that the EU is not appealing to the secular section of the society as a whole. Euroscepticism is at its zenith in Turkey.

Widespread lack of confidence in the EU and US, as an alliance, in Turkish society gives Erdogan and the political elites a strong chance to find alternative ways. As he said 3 years ago, today he still says that he wanted to join Shanghai Cooperation Organization. As the structure and functions of Shanghai Cooperation Organization is quite different from EU and NATO, I am not sure whether, as claimed, it will be beneficial for Turkey’ geopolitical and economic objectives.

Let me be clear, I think, Erdogan wants a country in which the leader in political power could oppress the oppositionand not be limited by Western countries and institutions. I mean that we have to read the discussions on “the axis shift of Turkey from West to East” in these domestic political objectives.

Otherwise it is not possible to understand why Shanghai Cooperation Organization is preferred. Whilst relations with Eastern dictators were not reliable and sustainable, just like Russia, as experienced last year, why we are deliberately trying to fall into Russia’s arms- the country which supports Assad regime, constantly massacres civilians and a close ally of Iran in Middle East, and which possibly will provide the PYD a federation in Northern Syria? The answer is simple, in my estimation. These are all about domestic politics, specifically about holding the power.

In your view, could Turkey become a multicultural state in the future — as apparently it had been one in the imperial times?

I do not think it could. Firstly, it is not suitable with thedominated state formaround the world which is nation-state. Although disintegration of nation-states gained wide currency due to developments in the last decades, they are still robust and adopt themselves in this day and age. Secondly, which is more important, I can say that regarding the context of Turkey, institutional background of exclusive nation-state which ignores multicultural and multi ethnic society dates back to a long time. In early years Republic of Turkey, Kemalist regime aimed to create a new homogeneous nation which implythe same identity, single-language, and strict secular public sphere. Codes of state and society had been rewritten by them after the Ottoman experience. Armenian, Greeks and Jewish minorities and mainly Kurdish, and traditionalist/conservative/Islamist opposition became a sore point for Kemalist establishment and exclusive state structure maintained by the establishment which consist of mainly Turkish army, central bureaucracy and higher judicial bodies. This political tutelage continued till early 2000s and thenwas challenged by conservatives lead by Erdogan. In this manner I can say that Turkey is in the turning point.

At the beginning of his way, Erdogan gained strong support and legitimacy by saying that Kemalist regime blocked components of multicultural society to reflect themselves on the state level. He was right. However, during the recent years, by obtaining power, he become the one who sees the society as an object which ought to be shaped from top to down, just like Kemalists.  In this matter, he has been transformed to his enemy, forgetting his pluralist discourse. Although there are some differences between Kemalists and conservatives such as that Erdogan has purpose of conservatized-society, and public support while Kemalists pursue the purpose of secularized society and relatively less public support. However there are many common points, most importantly, both are strongly against the idea of multicultural state, or the inclusive nation-state at least.

Within last years this common point has become dominant again. Codes of state and society have been rewritten in the direction of nationalism and statism with conservative admixture which can be called “Islamist nationalism”, rather than multinational state and pluralism.

The Russian-language version is available at Fraza.

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