Erdoğan is an Islamist first, pragmatist later - Turkey expert Gökhan Bacık

Behind Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's drive for a new constitution, there lies a failing economy, said Gökcan Bacık, who teaches political science at Palacky University and is a regular contributor to Ahval.

Erdoğan has been calling for an entirely new constitution for the country, and critics say he is likely to amass even more power for his executive presidency rather than deal with a constitution writing process, said Turkey Program Coordinator Merve Tahiroğlu.

Last week Erdoğan spoke of the need to draft a new civilian constitution for Turkey, stressing that the country's last two constitutions, enacted in 1961 and 1982, had been drafted under military rule following coups. According to Bacık, debating the constitution is a process that enables him to invent a trajectory which is disconnected from the economy and its failings. 

Erdoğan and his far-right ally, Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli, have agreed to establish a committee to work on a new constitution for the country in the middle of February. 

The pro-Kurdish People's Democracy Party’s (HDP) position in the opposition bloc is quite weak and Erdogan tries to punch this weak link constantly to destroy the Nation's Bloc, one of the two blocs in Turkey against Erdoğan and Bahçeli's People's Alliance.

Another tactic behind the new constitution debate is for Erdoğan to change the electoral law so as to help him in one way or another in securing a majority to continue his rule. That's why Erdoğan speaks about human rights these days, Bacık concluded, another instrumental tool for him to engineer the debate. The human rights that Erodoğan speaks of are not the same as the West’s understanding of the topic, Bacık emphasized.

Bacık said Erdoğan is a pragmatic politician but that does not negate his Islamist political leanings or intentions. On the contrary, Bacık argues Erdoğan is an Islamist first and the pragmatic politician second.

Turkish public gives mixed signals when it comes to the role of Islam in their lives, Bacık said. The public in Turkey is happy with Islam but when it comes to the Sharia system, in which Islamic canonical law based on the teachings of the Koran and the traditions of the Prophet (Hadith and Sunna) would become the legal laws used to administer the country, the Turkish public reject the idea.

Bacık believes that a new constitution can make more headway in recognizing Islam in the constitution.

Erdogan has not been successful at Islamising society, especially youth, but many actors in the system that he has installed are now part of his cause, Bacık said.

Erdogan also wants to design institutions and Islamise them but Turkish bureaucracy is very crowded and has people with various affiliations including those belonging to secular or nationalist unions. Therefore it is not easy to alter this trajectory, something that will require more time to accomplish. 

Bacık believes perhaps we will know more in a half a dozen years or so how Erdoğan's Islamisation project in the Turkish bureaucracy and state system worked. His work to extend the life of the system he presides over shows that Erdogan’s Islamist goals will likely overcome all ounces of pragmatism in his political character.