‘Iraq syndrome’ can change Erdoğan’s presidential targets

‘Iraq syndrome’ can change Erdoğan’s presidential targets

Analyzing Turkish-American relations, Tolga Tanış wrote in daily Hürriyet on July 10 that the flexibility capability in Turkey’s foreign and security policies has been hampered by an “Iraq syndrome.” Actually the expression he used in Turkish was a “motion syndrome.” That was a reference to a motion by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) about permitting Turkish territory to be used by the U.S. military to open a northern front in the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The motion was not approved by the Turkish parliament on March 1, 2003, because almost one-third of the AK Parti deputies, including four ministers who had signed the motion, voted against it, like the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP). That was a shock to President Tayyip Erdoğan (then leader of the party) and former President Abdullah Gül (then prime minister). Turkish-U.S. relations had hit bottom, especially after American troops arrested Turkish troops in Iraq together with Kurdish forces who collaborated with the U.S. military.

Tanış said that “we were right in the first place” psychology as a result of that “motion syndrome” which affected the Turkish government’s positions in a series of crises, from Libya to Israel and from Syria to Russia.
So it is safe to call that an “Iraq syndrome.”

But that concern over a crack within the AK Parti group, that “Iraq syndrome,” has shown itself more in domestic politics, through Erdoğan’s target to shift Turkey’s current parliamentarian political system into a strong presidential one through a constitutional change.

Erdoğan needs at least 15 MP votes in order to reach the minimum 330 (in the 550-seat Turkish parliament) needed to be able to take the change to a referendum.

The CHP is firm in not giving any support for any change which would further weaken checks-and-balances through decreasing the powers of the judiciary and the parliament - especially if it would be for Erdoğan.
Garnering support from the Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) seems impossible for the time being. The resumed acts of terror by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) ending the three-year dialogue with the government, triggering a massive anti-terror operation by the military, has kept it off the table.

There are scenarios in Ankara’s political backstage that those gap could be closed by MPs from the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which has been in a leadership crisis for months. 

But two problems come to mind at that stage:

1- Could the MHP deputies, those siding with party headquarters or with the candidates who are so ossified in their rhetoric against Erdoğan because of competition against each other, be relied upon by Erdoğan, especially in a close vote?

2- And because strategic voting, like the military decision in the Iraq motion vote and constitutional changes, is held in closed voting sessions, will the entire AK Parti group vote for it?

It is true that the AK Parti group is less diversified with respect to 2003 to have such a big crack. It is also true that loyalty to Erdoğan is more important than loyalty to the party program. Yet, you don’t have to observe huge cracks for the failure of the presidential shift project. Even a handful of abstentions could be enough to finish it. If, for example, there really are MPs who silently object to the possibility of Erdoğan becoming the single-handed ruler of Turkey, as it is claimed in political corridors...

Mustafa Şentop, the chairman of parliament’s constitutional committee and also a member of AK Parti’s draft committee, told Nuray Babacan of Hürriyet that they might give up the idea of shifting to a presidential system because of complications and settle for a narrower amendment to make it possible for the president to keep his party leader position, instead of the current non-partisanship on paper.

There might of course be other reasons, such as accusations of heading for an authoritarian system from allies in the West, in such a consideration.

But it might also be because of Erdoğan and the AK Parti executives not being 100 percent sure of their own MPs.

This could be named the “Iraq syndrome” in current-day Turkish politics.