Brave New Turkey
At first sight it seems that Turkey has turned into a great play of political vaudeville theater. Most recently, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced that he will chair Cabinet meetings after he was elected head of state. After a period of speculation, the president finally said the last word as usual and declared that he would chair a Cabinet meeting in the Presidential Palace on Jan. 19. Nobody knows the feelings of the prime minister concerning this fait accompli but after all, it is not a personal issue but another example of the transformation of the political regime in Turkey. According to the Constitution, the president can chair Cabinet meetings when the necessity occurs, but this has not been the political tradition. Nevertheless, Erdoğan does not need to justify or legitimize his deeds, since he considers himself the source of legitimation, as Turkey’s political system turns into a one-party, one-leader regime. It is Erdoğan and the ideology of the governing party which is supposed to define the “just and unjust” and the “good and the evil;” this is now a “Brave New Turkey” in the making.
The latest crises between the strongest business union, TÜSİAD, and the president can also be seen in this light. TÜSİAD Chairman Haluk Dinçer became the latest target of Erdoğan’s anger after he stated that their addressee is the prime minister, not the president, even if Dinçer’s statements were not in critical terms. In fact, the real problem seems to be about Dinçer’s criticism concerning the judicial system and his soft opposition to the presidential system. Erdoğan declared that he would not attend TÜSİAD’s meetings and right after the declaration of a presidential boycott, the prime minister duly declared his own. Despite the fact that the prime minister is not and cannot be a match for Erdoğan and despite the fact that the PM is very careful not to challenge the supreme power of the president, Erdoğan does not seem to tolerate the possibility of any other power center emerging. Besides, Erdoğan has always been very skeptical of TÜSİAD as the representative of the bourgeoisie of the “Old Turkey.” As “the project of New Turkey” denounces everything about the Old Turkey in an almost revolutionary way, it seems that the row between TÜSİAD and the president is not a temporary friction. It may be another footstep on the way of a future corporatist system that will be an aspect of the “Brave New Turkey.”
However, I think that TÜSİAD deserves to be humiliated and intimidated by the rulers of New Turkey, since it was an important part of the rise of authoritarian politics in Turkey. Old and established business circles have not only been highly pragmatic but also utterly short-sighted in their dealings with the governing party for so long. In the old days of secularist hegemony, TÜSİAD sided with the suppressive regime against conservatives and then changed its position only after the conservative government proved to be all-powerful. One may not expect from business circles to be very principled democrats, but banal co-optation with autocracies, which was based on cheap calculations, always has a price.
Indeed, the rise of authoritarian regimes cannot only be attributed to authoritarian politicians, but it is always the outcome of “collective crime.” Big business is more responsible for failing to oppose the democratic deficit than ordinary citizens or powerless collective bodies like trade unions, students’ associations and the like. This is what happens in fragile democracies like ours; big business allies itself with illiberal politics for the sake of securing economic gains, or even tends to use such an alliance as a powerful tool against competitors in an economic rivalry. Besides, they ally with such political parties for their business-friendly politics. Such a co-optation works for the benefit of both sides for some time until the tide turns against the “pragmatic allies” of such governments. Alas, it comes too late, not only for them but mostly the powerless victims of such political circumstances as they suffer due to the sins of the powerful.
In short, time is running out for those who will not adjust to the rules and circumstances of the Brave New Turkey that is everybody is expected to obey or perish. At least this is what the president and his government see as Turkey’s prospect.