Handan
Aug 02 2018

''Turkey’s ruling party has dismantled the state'' - political scientist

Turkey’s change from a parliamentary to a presidential system is the culmination of the ruling party’s dismantling of the state, political scientist Zafer Yörük said.

Presidential and parliamentary elections on June 24 ushered in a new executive presidential system of government under Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who is now serving his second term as president. He is also the leader of the Islamist ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has been in power since 2002.

Following the elections, Erdoğan reshuffled the AKP cabinet and restructured institutions to be more closely tied with his executive office. Opponents call this centralisation of power a one-man regime.

Yörük, who specialises in Turkish political identity, said that during its 16 years in power, the AKP had gradually torn down state institutions. One major example Yörük cited is the military.

Thousands of military personnel have been dismissed by presidential decrees since a coup plot in July 2016 failed to topple Erdoğan. Those dismissed are accused of having ties with the Gülen movement; followers of reclusive U.S.-based Turkish preacher Fethullah Gülen, an AKP ally-turned-adversary. An anti-terror law passed by parliament last week allows the government to continue to dismiss those it links to terrorism.  

Gone are the days when the military could simply seize power, as it did in 1960, 1971 and 1980, or simply order the government to resign, as it did in 1997.

“For the remainder of the 21st century, Turkey will not be a country where the military will have a say in political and social life as an institution. While it seems like moving away from militarism in the name of civilianisation is a welcome development, one tool of oppression goes, and another one comes,” Yörük said.

Jihadist and AKP paramilitary groups, backed by the police, Yörük said, had become tools of oppression since July 2016, leading Turkey on the path to becoming a police state.

The government is also chipping away at the rule of law. Until late July, Turkey had been under a state of emergency for two years that gave the president enhanced powers, particularly enabling him to bypass the judicial system.

But the new anti-terror law contains aspects of state of emergency powers and will last for three years, allowing authorities to detain suspects and hold them for up to four days without charge if they are accused of having ties to a terrorist organisation.

Turkey has reached the point, he said, where we have “a penal system that is under the absolute control of the president”.

This ongoing consolidation of power in Turkey has led to dwindling media freedom, widespread arrests of journalists, and a crackdown on dissidents, particularly since the coup attempt.

Yörük knows this all too well. He lost his job as a lecturer at Izmir Economic University as a result of signing the “Academics for Peace” petition in 2016 calling for a peaceful end to Turkey’s 30-years conflict with armed Kurdish militants.

Turkey’s distancing from the European Union (EU) has also signalled a breakdown in democratic norms.

“Turkey is moving further away from its written binding agreements with the EU on burning questions like women's rights, workers' rights, the Kurdish problem, and fundamental rights and freedoms in Turkey's society," he said. But the EU tolerates blatant human rights violations in Turkey.

“There is no other case where hundreds of journalists, writers, and politicians including mayors, party leaders, and deputies are held in prison in a country under the governance of the European Court of Human Rights."

A big reason for this, Yörük said, was Turkey’s 2016 deal with the EU to stop refugees heading to Europe in return for aid.

"The valve is in Erdoğan's hand, and it seems like the moment things go wrong, there is the threat of loosening it or opening it up all the way again,” he said. 

When the AKP first came to power in 2002, the party ran on a platform of joining the EU. Turkey and the EU began accession talks in 2008, nearly two decades after applying for membership, but negotiations have now stalled with little progress made.

Many in the EU are wary of admitting Turkey, an overwhelmingly Muslim country, into a continent with largely Christian-based cultural values. This identity issue is a sore subject for many Turks, particularly those in the AKP camp.

“As for the one-man regime, which has led Turkey away from Europe in big strides, it’s a golden opportunity to focus on power and right-wing populist politics that are based on the perception of blood incompatibility,” Yörük said.