Turkey’s governing incompetence deepens despite new model
It has been nearly six months since Turkey voted to switch to an executive presidential system in a referendum, launching the transition to a new governance model that will allow President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) to consolidate power even further.
Just two months after the referendum, Erdoğan officially returned to the AKP as a member and was reelected as chairman of the party he co-founded in 2001. Although many of the presidential powers defined in the amended constitution will only start to be implemented after the first presidential elections in 2019, if not before, many agree that Turkey and its politics have already entered a new era.
The AKP and its main ally, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), believe this new governance system will empower the elected government and strengthen the unity of Turkey. The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), however, see it as simply the introduction of one-man rule.
Looking at the government’s performance over the last six months, we can see that changing the system has proven to be not sufficient to adequately address Turkey’s fundamental problems and to effectively rule the country. We also should not forget that the government continues to enjoy additional powers granted through the ongoing state of emergency.
Here are some of the key issues on which the government has failed to post satisfactory results in recent times:
Education: The start of the academic year has brought more confusion than ever, following the unexpected intervention of President Erdoğan for the removal of a centralized exam that regulates the transition of nearly 1.2 million secondary school students into high school every year. Criticisms from the opposition parties have highlighted that this change has been brought about simply as a result of one-man’s intervention and without prior and proper consultations with education experts.
Education has long been one of Turkey’s most fundamental issues, and 15 years of AKP rule have obviously failed to introduce an efficient model. Worse, the president’s direct intervention only made things much more complicated, leaving millions of families, students - as well as the Education Ministry and hundreds of high schools – completely in the dark.
The discussion on the transition from secondary to high school also triggered a long-standing argument on the need to change university entrance exams, and both the ministry and the Higher Education Board (YSK) are now scrambling to find a way out of this mess.
Tax burden on middle classes
Economy: This week the government unveiled an ambitious economic program that aims to increase GDP to $13,000 from the current $10,000 by boosting growth and decreasing inflation and unemployment.
It is up to economy experts to analyze how these ambitious objectives will be realized without introducing much-anticipated structural reforms. But one thing is certain: The burden will fall on the shoulders of the country’s middle class, as the government has been tending to resort to increase – mostly indirect - taxes to finance the budget deficit, thus adding to the already existing excessive tax load.
It seems that the government is planning to finance the subsidies and support pledged to the private sector by seizing more of the middle class’ incomes. It is ironic that Finance Minister Naci Ağbal tried to justify the need to raise taxes with increased defense expenditures, as Turkey fights against multiple terror organizations, in a bid to respond to nationalist feelings and emotions. It is also questionable why the government is not seeking a tax reform to secure tax justice in favor of lower income segments of society, while placing more of a burden on industrialists and businessmen.
State of emergency remains in place
Security-freedoms: The state of emergency, declared shortly after last year’s coup attempt, is still in place. Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekçi has confessed the difficulty in attracting foreign direct investment to Turkey under state of emergency conditions. But he seems to be alone in voicing this obstacle, as many in government are enjoying the comfort of being able to issue decree laws on almost everything without a legislative process at parliament.
The fight against the Fethullahist Terror Organization (FETÖ) and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) is continuing at full speed, with the support of the entire Turkish people. However, the use of emergency rule to restrict even peaceful demonstrations is leading to major violations of the right to assemble and to demonstrate.
Turkey’s efforts to provide security are being done at the cost of eroding fundamental freedoms, therefore breaking the security-freedom balance in the favor of the former. Furthermore, contrary to expectations that Turkey would return to normalcy more than a year after the coup attempt, the crackdown on opposition politicians, political rivals, critical journalists, academics and dissidents continues.
In one of his speeches last week, President Erdoğan said the following: “We should place a national and local vision in all institutions that have a strong influence on society like the media, universities and the business world. We should not allow the dominance of any understanding that regards itself as being above the interests of the state and the people, under whatever disguise and cover it may be.” This statement of itself leaves little room for further interpretation.
Ties with allies broken
Foreign policy: One of the most important expectations of the government in the post-referendum process was the normalization of Turkey’s relationships – especially with Western allies, the United States, the European Union, Germany, etc. However, the opposite has proven to be the case.
Turkey’s ties with the U.S. are at a historic low, rocked by multiple problems. EU talks have been de facto suspended, with plans to upgrade the Customs Union at risk of being shelved for a certain time. Ties with Germany, Turkey’s number one trade partner, have suffered serious damage.
In the Middle East, Turkey’s influence has been observed to be limited. Both Syria and Iraq are seemingly in the process of disintegration, despite Turkey’s strong opposition. The Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) independence referendum will have effects on both Turkey’s internal and external politics, and Ankara’s harsh reaction against the KRG has the potential of further weakening bonds with the country’s Kurdish population.
AKP suffering from ‘metal fatigue’
The resignation of the Istanbul mayor: Last but not least, the resignation of Istanbul Mayor Kadir Topbaş should also be assessed. Ever since his election as AKP chair, Erdoğan has signaled that he will renew the entire party management and local organization in order to get rid of those suffering what he calls “metal fatigue.”
There are rumors that more resignations and dismissals from local organizations will continue in the days ahead. However, public opinion still has no clue about the reasons why the mayor of Istanbul, a city with 14 million residents, resigned from his job. Perhaps Erdoğan is trying to prepare his party for the upcoming local, parliamentary and presidential elections in 2019.
All of these aspects are enough to prove that the new governance model brought about with the referendum has not brought about the sophistication needed to resolve Turkey’s many problems.