What’s the trouble with Turkey?

What’s the trouble with Turkey?

Denmark has had no majority government since 1982. Turkey, on the other hand, has been ruled by a tight single party majority since 2002. That is 33 years of debate and deal-making in Denmark and 13 years of parliamentary hegemony in Turkey. Life is so boring in Denmark, or so I tell myself. And anyway, a single-party government means political stability.

I only really thought about Helle Thorning Schmidt, the Danish Prime Minister, after her selfie with Barack Obama at Mandela’s memorial service. Remember the one that disturbed Michelle Obama? That, I call stability. The best prime minister is the most unknown, if you ask me. It shows that the person is doing his or her job perfectly, without any fuss. Just look at Turkey then, where our leaders call out to us every day in the headlines. It makes me long for the boredom of the Nordics. But why? What is the trouble with Turkey? Let me elaborate.

Denmark and Turkey are unitary states, which means that they have no sub-national governments. Yet, Denmark also manages to be very decentralized, meaning that state authority is dispersed to various bodies across the country, like municipalities or cities. Turkey is the exact opposite of Denmark in that sense, being the most centralized of all unitary states: 91 percent of all public employees answer directly to Ankara. In Denmark, 78 percent of all public sector workers are employed by local authorities. Let me emphasize that in Turkey’s case, that number is 9 percent. And think about the sizes of those countries. Think about which is bigger, more populated and has more diverse needs.

Decentralization is the Northern way. In Sweden, which is another unitary state, only 18 percent of all public sector employees work directly for Stockholm. In Copenhagen, that is about 22 percent. That is more than four times Turkey’s 91 percent. After all, this statistic is all about who calls the shots in a country. In Turkey, Ankara interferes with every minute detail of life, even in the provinces. Just look at our judicial system. All files need to pass through Ankara to be completed. Weird? Maybe.

This level of centralization has made us vulnerable to change. Think about this – managing Turkey is about the stream of papers that flows across Ankara’s desks. The ultimate prize of politics is to combine that flow on one single desk. We recently may have started to have a problem there, if you ask me. Normally, it is the prime minister in Turkey who signs all the papers. But now we have changed that system – our president is elected by national ballot, just like the prime minister. But the paper flow remains the same. That is asking for trouble.

As a result of the 2007 electoral reform, Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan became the first president to be elected by direct popular vote. When you have a president elected by more than 50 percent of the popular vote and a prime minister that is elected by 40-odd percent of the popular vote with no change in their powers, then you, my friend, are in the danger zone. I recall writing about this long before the presidential election. A system in which both the president and the prime minister are elected by popular vote calls out for a constitutional crisis. That, I think, is the source of the problem in Turkey today.