Erdoğan rapidly overhauls Turkish government as opposition unravels

With each passing day since his Jul. 9 inauguration as Turkey’s first executive president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has taken advantage of his new legislative powers with a slew of new presidential decrees designed to turn his vision of government into a reality, whether or not this conforms with the existing constitution.

As the president sets out his demands, an army of ministry bureaucrats, lawyers and advisers bustles around Ankara day and night, distilling these instructions into new legislation to be published in the Official Gazette, the government’s channel for the proclamation of new laws and other important official announcements.

The first steps were taken for recruitment of the administrative personnel to fill positions in the new system before the Jun. 24 elections took place, with thousands of CVs gathered and ready for use by the Presidency’s new office for human resources the next day.

When Erdoğan declared this week that, under the new system, appointees could be changed at a moment’s notice, he laid the new situation out clearly – “in the new system, anything can happen at any time,” he said.

Every individual appointed as a head of directorate, every minister’s deputy and chairperson of a board has two or three rivals waiting in the wings, ready to take over.

Under this new system, every important bureaucratic position can now be filled summarily at Erdoğan’s will, and dismissing any one of these would cost the president no more effort than writing his signature on a two-line letter thanking them for their service.

That is what Erdoğan meant when he said that “anything could happen at any time.” Top officials, from Vice President Fuat Oktay and the 16 cabinet ministers down, could wake up one morning to find themselves out of a job. Or, if he wishes, the president can with one decree raise the number of ministers to 30, and the number of Vice Presidents to 20.

As a result, appointees’ eyes are glued to the Official Gazette, the print and internet readership of which has, unsurprisingly, soared.

Meanwhile, legal amendments are under way that will allow the president similar control over the rank and file civil servants, whose positions are currently legally protected by Law 657.

The stringent legal protections currently afforded these public workers have led to complaints about a bloated civil service, and Erdoğan has frequently presented his planned reforms as a way of raising its efficiency and cutting employees who do little other than claim a paycheque.

The changes, however, will lay the groundwork for a system that allows the president to reshape the civil service’s lower levels, fire staff en masse and control its recruitment policies, just as the constitution currently allows him to create, abolish and appoint staff to ministries at will.

A first step in this direction has already been taken with a legislative proposal accepted by parliament that will extend by three years conditions of the state of emergency, which was first implemented shortly after the Jul. 15, 2016 coup attempt and in place until July 2018.

These include the authority granted to the interior and defence ministries to fire personnel from the army, police force, gendarmerie and coast guard without investigation or litigation.

The proposed reform to Law 657 will extend this system to all ministries, public institutions, state economic enterprises and public banks.

Meanwhile, Turkey’s unravelling opposition has proven to be no obstacle whatsoever to this or other legislation desired by Erdoğan, allowing the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to propose and quickly pass legislation without any hindrance.

I said before the Jun. 24 elections that the Good Party, founded by Meral Akşener and other breakaways from the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) was a joint project by the AKP and MHP to split the opposition and ensure Erdoğan and his allies’ victory.

The mission was successful, and Akşener’s announcement this week that she will step down as chairwoman in the party’s upcoming congress goes to prove my point.

After the elections the Good Party wasted no time distancing itself from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), with which it had shared a side in the elections as members of the opposition Nation Alliance.

Good Party officials quickly declared that the alliance was over, blaming the CHP for their party’s lack of votes, and made highly visible overtures to the AKP and MHP. Party deputies threw roses to Erdoğan after his victory, and Good Party Deputy Chairperson Koray Aydın was the first to shake MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli’s hand when parliament resumed.

At this stage it would be unsurprising to see Akşener progress to a spot in Erdoğan’s government, even as Vice President, after she vacates the party chair, which Aydın, a former MHP heavyweight, is likely to assume.

Nor will it be surprising if another extraordinary party congress is called shortly afterwards to announce the dissolution of the party. Aydın will lead his cohort back to the MHP, where he may even take over leadership from Bahçeli, and the remnants will be forced to join the CHP or another opposition party.

Besides the Good Party’s situation, the opposition collapse is exemplified by CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu’s post-election speech asserting that the 22 percent vote share his party achieved was a success.

Kılıçdaroğlu and his so-called A-Team of faithful party functionaries are trying to gloss over a disastrous election campaign that saw the party’s much-vaunted Fair Election ballot-monitoring program crash, 50,000 ballot boxes unattended, and statements from CHP representatives confidently (and falsely) asserting that the CHP candidate, Muharrem İnce, had held Erdoğan to a second round in the presidential election.

The risible claims of success from Kılıçdaroğlu’s camp are meant to stave off a leadership challenge by İnce, whose presidential campaign sparked enthusiasm amongst opposition voters and won the presidential candidate over 30 percent of the vote to the CHP’s 22 percent in parliamentary elections.

İnce’s performance, and eight years of failure from Kılıçdaroğlu, have galvanised CHP voters and delegates to push for an extraordinary party congress, at which challengers can put themselves forward as candidates in a vote to unseat the chairperson.

Seeing that the CHP voter-base and many within the party are unconvinced by his claims of success, the CHP leader has switched to plan B, promising on Wednesday for the first time “change” within the party. That means arranging to sacrifice a few of his party allies, only to replace like for like.

The CHP’s headquarters has attempted to counter the challenge from İnce by raising his disappearance on election night, when he vanished from the public eye and conceded defeat through a WhatsApp message to a news anchor.

Yet this is a flimsy argument coming from Kılıçdaroğlu, who also dropped out of sight – for two whole days – on Jul. 24. Just as he disappeared in the previous elections in March and August, 2014, and June and November, 2015. It has become clear to many that it is time the CHP had fresh blood.

Without that infusion of fresh blood, the CHP will face an utter rout at the local elections scheduled for 2019, and will likely see the collapse of many of their stronghold seats across the country.

Erdoğan himself knows that little could serve him better than to see Kılıçdaroğlu and his A-Team continue at the head of Turkey’s main opposition party.


The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.
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