Democracy, not Erdoğan’s future, should be debated

Democracy, not Erdoğan’s future, should be debated

Domestic and international attention has turned to the Constitutional debate in Turkey. Hard as conciliation appears in some areas, the relevant committee in the Turkish Parliament is nevertheless making headway on key issues, most notably in the area of “human dignity” and the rights that protect it. 

The revival of the “presidential debate” by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), with the highly apparent approval of Prime Minister Erdoğan, however, could end up throwing a spanner in the works. This effort of the AKP is already being interpreted as an attempt to secure Erdoğan’s future, where he can rule from a position vested with greater powers than are available to the President today.

Erdoğan has said he will not run for re-election as Prime Minister, and the fact that he is eyeing the presidency in 2014 is an open secret. There are also ample indications that he is not interested in the current presidency and wants one with serious executive powers. Senior AKP officials frequently refer to an American or French style presidency in this context. 

They are also trying to show that a presidential system would represent more political stability for Turkey, increasing “supervisory capabilities” and thus making the country’s development process less turbulent.
Those who oppose such a presidency argue in return that Turkey has a parliamentary experience that goes back over a century, and say this is best suited for a country with such diversity. They maintain that it is much more logical to improve this system, in line with modern Turkey’s requirements. 

Switching to an executive presidency, they declare, would amount to a political adventure without it being certain that anything positive would emerge from it. There is also the “AKP’s hidden agenda” debate, which has also been revived with the presidency debate. 

The argument here is that Erdoğan has an Islamic agenda, and wants to elevate himself to an even stronger executive position from which he can implement this agenda with fewer encumbrances. In fact, he fueled this debate himself recently with certain utterances, one example being that he and his party wanted to see “the emergence of a religious generation.”

Quite tellingly, radical changes to the educational system were hurriedly pushed through by the AKP shortly after this remark, with much protestation from the opposition and teachers’ organizations. These changes have effectively opened the path for more religion in schools, meaning Sunni Islam in this case of course.
Erdoğan also let it slip from his mouth just a few days ago that Turkey must have “one religion,” only to retract this as “an unintended remark” after the reactions it elicited. “Unintended” it may have been, but it is clear that what we have here is a political “Freudian Slip,” where a desire embedded in the subconscious manifested itself inadvertently at the wrong moment.

Andrew Finkel, a journalist who knows Turkey well, likened Erdoğan to a “Moses wandering in the desert” in a recent analysis on the presidential debate for the New York Times. “Having led his people from one sort of bondage, he is unable to lead them to the Promised Land,” Finkel wrote. 

If that is indeed Erdoğan’s wish, it suggests that one has to take his often pronounced desire to bring “advanced democracy” to Turkey with a serious pinch of salt. The fact is that Turkey has got a unique opportunity to produce a constitution that will suit a modern country marked by serious diversity. 
What we should be discussing is how to enhance our democracy under a new Constitution and not allow it to be “hijacked by a debate over the future of just one man” as Finkel put it, or one type of religious belief. 

If, however, the effort is indeed to work toward achieving the AKP’s “hidden agenda,” it is clear that what will be achieved in the end will not be stability in Turkey.