Turkey marks Republic Day in deep political strain

Turkey marks Republic Day in deep political strain

Turkey marks the 92nd anniversary of the declaration of the republic on Oct. 29 by its founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in deep political strain ahead of the crucial general election on Nov. 1, which could determine not only the next government but also the country’s entire near future.

The newest link in that chain of strain is the closing down of two TV stations - Kanaltürk and Bugün, which belong to the Koza-Ipek industrial group - by their caretakers appointed by a court after a controversial Oct. 27 ruling. The caretakers had entered the broadcast buildings with the use of police force on Oct. 28. 

An Ankara court appointed caretakers to 22 companies of the group on Oct. 27, including the media outlets. The group’s chair, Akın İpek, is a businessman close to Fethullah Gülen, the U.S.-resident Islamist ideologue who used to be a close ally of President Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) up until two years ago. He is now an arch-enemy of the AKP, with the Interior Ministry putting his name and picture on a red bulletin of “wanted terrorists” yesterday.

It is almost hard to believe that one of the major political contentions before the Nov. 1 election in Turkey, which Atatürk had dreamed of as a secular, Western-oriented, modern country, is between two different understandings of Islamist politics - or “conservatives” as they like to be called. Another source of tension is the Kurdish problem, as autonomous Kurdish regions are currently under formation in neighboring Iraq and Syria. Paying the price of diverging since the Arab Spring from Turkey’s traditional republican-era foreign policy of “Peace at home, peace in the world” in favor of Ottoman-era dreams, the government is currently trying to find an honorable exit and quietly shifting back to that former line.

A new-generation terrorist organization called the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has turned Turkey into a battle ground due to its fight against the secular Turkish Republic and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), also fighting against the latter in the Syrian and Iraqi theaters. ISIL committed the worst ever terrorist attack in Turkish history on Oct. 10 in the capital Ankara, killing at least 102 people.

Despite President Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s statements that ISIL may have cooperated with its rival PKK and perhaps the Gülenists -a line that has managed to convince 30 percent of voters according to a recent survey - the prosecutor’s office stated on Oct. 28 that it was planned, staged and implemented by ISIL in order to get the elections postponed.

The election will be a test case for Erdoğan, who still wants to shift from the parliamentary system to a presidential system, in which he would have more executive powers and fewer checks and balances. Hoping that the AK Parti could regain the parliamentary majority that it lost in the June 7 election, Erdoğan activated a loop in the constitution to take Turkey to a snap election (for the first time ever) on Nov. 1, instead of encouraging or insisting on a coalition government. If the AK Parti fails to regain its majority on Nov. 1, Erdoğan will be unable to achieve his ultimate political target, and he may even opt to take the country to yet another election - further escalating polarization in Turkey.

Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), which was originally founded by Atatürk himself, has described the current situation as the “deepest crisis” in the history of the republic, as it is not clear whether the president or the prime minister is actually running the country.

Blacking out TV stations that are critical of the government is not a matter of media freedom any longer. It is also about the independence of the courts, freedom of investment, and property rights. 

Overall, the picture is a real pity. Turkey must emerge from this and get back to normal as soon as possible after the election on Sunday.