Will early elections in Turkey follow paid military service?

Will early elections in Turkey follow paid military service?

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu made two key remarks, among many others, during his speech to the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AK Parti) parliamentary group on Dec. 2.

The first was about the possibility of lowering the 10 percent election threshold, as well as the possibility of holding parliamentary elections earlier than the currently scheduled June 2015.

On the threshold, Davutoğlu said his party was “not afraid of election thresholds,” without even hinting about the case currently in the Constitutional Court that claims it is a violation of political rights. On holding the elections before June 7, he used decisive language and said, “No,” the elections will be “on time.”

The second statement related to paid military service. Davutoğlu said he had some good news for those waiting to pay for their compulsory military service, revealing that men aged 28 and below who have yet to do their military service by Jan. 1, 2015 could pay 18,000 Turkish Liras (nearly $8,100) to exempt themselves.

Davutoğlu said nearly 700,000 people fall into this category, and all revenue earned from the scheme will be added to the budget for the modernization of the Turkish Armed Forces.

There is nothing wrong in either of the statements; after all, they are political decisions made by an
elected government. However, just one-and-a-half months ago on Oct. 17, Davutoğlu had said the following about paid exemptions from military service: “There is no way that poor boys will have to serve in the military while rich boys will be able to pay to not do so.”

The following are the words of President Erdoğan, just 20 days ago, on Nov. 11: “There are positive and negative aspects of the issue. From time to time, some people appear to stir this issue up again. But it would not be correct to ignore the opinion of the Turkish Armed Forces on the subject.”

The military is “not warm” to the idea for two main reasons, according to news station NTV’s Sept. 17 report, referring to ranking military sources:

1-     It could cause a personnel weakness at a time when Turkey is confronting serious security issues with Syria, Iraq, and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) across its borders.

2-    It could cause a disturbance among poorer conscripts who cannot pay to avoid their military service.

A day after Erdoğan spoke, Davutoğlu also stated on Kanal 7 that the “risks” in Syria and Iraq and the security atmosphere in the region should be taken into consideration. “We could discuss this [paid military service exemption] in an atmosphere in which we can see what is ahead of us more clearly. There is no use in keeping the issue on the agenda as if it was going to happen tomorrow,” he said.
Then, the Supreme Military Council (YAŞ) convened on Nov. 27, chaired by Davutoğlu. And yesterday, Davutoğlu delivered the “good news” for those ready to pay for an exemption.

This has happened before, in 2011.

Only five months after Erdoğan, as the prime minister at the time, said it would be “injustice” if the government let those who have money pay to be exempted from military service, while sending the poor ones to the sentry, in November 2011 he delivered the same “good news” for those who have the money.

At that time, the exemption fee was 30,000 liras for those above the age of 30. The government was expecting around 450,000 people to apply and was planning for this money to go toward the treatment of veterans. However, in June 2012, Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz announced with disappointment that only 66,000 had applied.

Now, this is the second time that AK Parti governments have opened the door to paid military service, shortly after denying that it would do so.

This is why there is room to speculate about whether Davutoğlu’s denial that there will be an early election really means just that.