New life and politics in Turkey: Living in limbo

New life and politics in Turkey: Living in limbo

Turkey has been in political limbo ever since Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was elected president. This was the first time a president has been elected by popular vote, but Turkey is still a parliamentary system where executive power is in the hands of the prime minister and the Cabinet.

Before he was elected, Erdoğan hinted that he would be a “different” and “active” president. It turns out that what he meant was the beginning of a de facto “presidential system.” He behaves like the head of the executive, while the prime minister seems to be his assistant; or rather, he behaves like a supreme leader with Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu as his executive chief. Neither seems to have any concern about the legal job definitions, in fact legality does not even matter anymore. According to the Constitution, the president should act as politically impartial, but Erdoğan does not bother even to pretend to act as a political arbiter. He gives speeches almost every day and sometimes more than once a day, comments on everything, and engages in political polemics against opposition politicians.

Davutoğlu is trying to be complementary rather than competitive. However, on the one hand he is eager to present himself as a distinctive intellectual politician, while on the other he tries to copy Erdogan’s style to improve his popularity and to compensate for his lack of charisma. He ends up oscillating between two different images: A “popular politician” and a “philosopher king.”

Members of the Cabinet have tried to adjust to the new situation by being very careful to express loyalty to both men at the same time. The situation of the sycophants is also very delicate. Besides, there is a new prime minister who tries to portray himself as a clean politician after all the corruption allegations and scandals about ruling party politicians. Nevertheless, he needs to avoid allowing a schism in the party and annoying the president. So, under these circumstances, he has chosen the leader of the main opposition party as the target of his anti-corruption talk. Although he fails to sound convincing, (the opposition leader may be accused of many weaknesses, but corruption isn’t one), the prime minister thinks this is a clever policy to divert attention from the corruption probes. In fact, he does not need to make much effort anyway, as the supporters of the government do not seem to be bothered about the corruption allegations against their party. Nor are they bothered about the obscuring of legal processes by political power. In this respect, like in many others, Turkey is also in a legal and judicial limbo.  

The supporters of the government are no longer ordinary voters, but the “loyalists of the New Turkey.” The new order has its own system and unwritten rules; it has its supreme leader and a prime minister under him, with the Cabinet and the parliamentary group under the both, (though rather more under the supreme leader). The new order does not recognize the legitimacy of democratic rules, but only the legitimacy of the “historical mission.” Islam is the measure of everything, if not in terms of legality, in terms of legitimacy. Nevertheless, not all claims in the name of Islam are recognized as legitimate, as can be seen in the case of the Gülen movement. It is “state religion” that matters now. The Constitution’s basis in the principles of secular republicanism clashes with the unwritten frame of principles that have their legitimacy in the new ruling ideology. Therefore, Turkey is also in ideological limbo at the moment.

The new ruling ideology can be defined as a historical-religious mission supposedly revived by the leader and his loyalist team of politicians and intellectuals. According to this new ideology, Turkey is the “unbounded Prometheus” of the Islamic world. Turkey suffered a long historical imposition at the hands of those who destroyed the Ottoman Empire with the purpose of annihilating Islam. Now, the empire that was the center of Islamic Ummah is striking back, which is why Turkey has many enemies today. The president describes “internal enemies” as the “friends of this southern country,” meaning Israel.

This is the present state of life and politics in Turkey. I have to admit, life is getting really difficult here.