Emergency rule should not be Turkey’s new normal
Immediately after Turkey’s deadly July 2016 coup attempt parliament approved a request from the government to impose a state of emergency, with the justification that it would allow a better and more efficient fight against members of the Fethullahist Terror Organization (FETÖ), accused of being behind the attempted putsch.
Turkey’s Constitution grants the right to declare a state of emergency in its Articles 119 and 120. The former cites a natural disaster or serious economic crisis while the latter cites “widespread acts of violence and serious deterioration of public order.”
According to the articles, fundamental rights and freedoms can be temporarily restricted or suspended during states of emergency, while the head of the executive and the government can issue decree laws lasting for a period of no longer than six months. The articles also permit the extension of the state of emergency after the six-month period is completed.
Article 91 of the constitution regulates the issuance of state of emergency decree laws in a very detailed way. It underlines that fundamental rights, individual rights and duties cannot be regulated by decree laws and states that decree laws must be debated at parliament as priority legislation. The government should also make clear the reason and scope of the decree laws to be issued so that it does not use this privilege for other political purposes.
Turkey has been under state of emergency rule since July 2016. The government has issued 30 decree laws over the course of this period, with 18 issued in 2017 and 12 issued in the last six months of 2016.
At first glance, one can clearly observe that the first decree laws issued were mostly related to the coup attempt, used for the massive purges of allegedly FETÖ-linked civil servants, for the seizure of FETÖ-linked companies, and for the closure of hundreds of educational and other sorts of institutions believed to be operated by Gülenists. Decree laws issued in the immediate aftermath of the coup attempt also helped to restructure key state entities, including supreme military bodies and war academies as well as key judicial bodies and law enforcement.
This trend has sharply changed in 2017, as around half the decree laws were unrelated to the post-coup probe. For example decree law no. 680 in early 2017 changed regulations on traffic registration, expanded the scope of the Wealth Fund, allowed Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT) to recruit 450 personnel and lifted bans on private broadcasters violating Election Law.
Decree law no 687 obligates certain types of vehicles to use winter tires throughout the winter season and also introduces amendments on the procedures for seizing private companies.
The government has also opted to use decree laws on economic issues. A governmental subsidy to decrease unemployment was issued in one of the decree laws while another introduced multiple articles to establish attractions to boost investment in certain parts of the country.
The scope of recent decree laws has also widened. Decree Law No. 690 contained 77 articles, Decree Law No. 694 contained 205 articles, and the most recent one had 137 articles addressing various fields. The decree law that the government issued in the final days of 2017 was perhaps one of the most controversial, as it introduced a kind of impunity to civilians involved in thwarting the coup attempt in 2016.
Overall, one can come to the conclusion that the government is increasingly tending to use this power for issues it could perfectly deal with and legislate at parliament, thanks to its parliamentary majority. For example, it opted to address the issue of the status of tens of thousands of subcontracted workers through a decree law, rather than through a parliamentary process in which various stakeholders would also be involved.
State of emergency powers obviously grant the government a big opportunity to deal with social, economic and political matters through decree laws, avoiding a parliamentary scrutiny. Parliament, where the will of the people is best reflected, is therefore effectively bypassed.
There is no sign that the state of emergency will be lifted any time soon. Many in Ankara believe the government will continue to extend it until the 2019 elections. Government officials often vow that the state of emergency will be in place until Turkey is fully cleared of all Gülenists.
There are three broader problems that can be observed over the last year-and-a-half under the state of emergency. Firstly, emergency rule has deepened polarization and escalated tension within society, with controversial decree laws accompanied by a continued crackdown on dissident politicians, journalists and academics. Secondly, the fact that the April 2017 referendum on shifting to an executive presidential system took place under emergency rule conditions has led to many lingering questions about the accuracy of the polls, (and it would certainly be wrong to repeat this for the upcoming triple elections due in 2019). Thirdly, emergency rule has had a destructive effect on Turkey’s relations with the West and the country’s traditional allies.
Considering all these dimensions, it’s imperative that the government provides more predictability about how long the state of emergency will continue to be in place. It is in the best interests of Turkey that the government takes steps to ensure that the state of emergency does not become the country’s