Strangling the Turkish Parliament

Strangling the Turkish Parliament

Despite four days of yet another cockfight between the lawmakers of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) in Turkey’s parliament, several articles of the 18-article constitutional amendment package to shift the parliamentary system to an executive presidency have already been passed. As a Turkish citizen, it is hard to digest the fact that Turkish lawmakers are strangling each other without shame in front of the cameras during the creation of a so-called democratic change, purportedly to usher in more democracy in the country. 

Taking a vital constitutional package to a referendum itself is not enough to secure a democratic framework for any given crucial change in any given country. Almost all constitutional experts have been emphasizing the need for a healthy and inclusive debate in society ahead of any parliamentary discussion. This obviously did not take place as Turkey was rushed into a state of emergency following the failed coup of July 15, 2016. Then, before we knew it, the Turkish Parliament was hustled into becoming a bit player in a play put on stage by the ruling AKP and its ideological cadet, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). 

It is not only the main opposition CHP that argues that openly compromising a secret ballot in parliament is a breech of the current constitution – as was depicted by some AKP lawmakers who did not even enter the cubicles to cast their “yes” vote. The first fact-checking civil society platform in Turkey, “Doğruluk Payı” (Margin of Truth), made a similar statement, asking for a rerun of the vote, while members of the government seem to remain reckless or even enjoy showing off. 

This kind of complacency among AKP lawmakers cannot simply be taken as a manifestation of the vote results, since it ultimately reflects the culture of obedience in Turkish politics. The members of the ruling party are there to act according to the instructions from the top and avoid being labeled as a “traitor” by their leader. They know by heart that they will be regarded as a “good man of the cause” to the degree they show obedience, especially at a time when the discourse of treason is rampant in AKP circles more than ever. 
If it were not the case, would AKP lawmakers be this content to vote in favor of a constitutional amendment package which gives the president the power to abolish parliament and renew the elections? The relevant articles have not been discussed and voted on yet, but the minimum 330 needed to take the package to a referendum does not seem to be an issue under these circumstances. 

Thus, we can effectively argue that just like we haven’t had a debate in public, there has not been a real debate in parliament either, as it’s nothing more than a dialogue des sourdes. Moreover, Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım seems to have changed his mind on the necessity to hold a referendum after the termination of the state of emergency. While the government – with a focus on short-term political goals – might not worry about the legitimacy of referendum results under a state of emergency, it is not hard to imagine that this could possibly be the longest surviving systemic change.  

With the possible approval of the AKP-MHP’s constitutional package, millennials of Turkey might be lucky enough to gain the right to run for elections at the age of 18. However, even if they decide to enter politics and get elected, they will regrettably serve in a parliament with a chopped head. For me, the recent pictures of the AKP and CHP lawmakers strangling each other during voting sessions are merely a perfect analogy to the soon-to-be-strangled Turkish Parliament.