Erdoğan must consult Parliament on Syria

Erdoğan must consult Parliament on Syria

The ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) subjective understanding of democracy is revealing itself once again over Syria. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan argues that there is no parliamentary authorization required for Turkey to participate in a U.S.-led operation against Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria.

They point at the authorization obtained a year ago, after the fighting in Syria started spilling over into Turkey and killing Turkish citizens, and which is valid until Oct. 4. Constitutionally, the government has to get parliamentary authority to send Turkish troops abroad or allow foreign troops into Turkey. 

Last year’s authorization allows the government to send forces into Syria if and when it deems this necessary. The opposition argues with some justification that it does not cover the kind of operation that is being considered against Syria, and is therefore demanding the matter be brought to Parliament.

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has said this is possible should the need arise. But it is clear his government does not want to face the kind of situation it faced in March 2003 when Parliament refused – with support from AKP deputies – to permit the U.S. to use Turkish territory to invade Iraq. 
What makes matters more difficult for Erdoğan, however, is that he has the example of U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron and U.S. President Barack Obama, who decided to consult their legislatures before embarking on the Syrian operation, even if they did not have to in absolute terms.

Even if Erdoğan were correct in saying his government does not require additional authorization to participate in a U.S.-led operation against Syria, respect for democracy demands that he seek this. The need is amplified by the fact that participation in this operation is no less controversial in Turkey, than it is in Britain of the U.S.

It is obvious from his statements that Erdoğan believe the 50 percent of the vote he received in the June 2011 elections gives him the mandate to push ahead with his government’s desire to topple the al-Assad regime. His government, however, is already under attack for announcing that Turkey will participate in any “coalition of the willing” before having consulted Parliament in anyway. 

Erdoğan’s understanding of democracy as a majoritarian system of government, and not a pluralist one, is manifest once again in all this. In trying to convince the public that Israel was behind the coup in Egypt, he recently pointed to a remark by French Jewish philosopher and writer Bernard-Henri Lévy uttered during a panel discussion at Tel Aviv University in June 2011. 

Asked to comment on the possibility that the Muslim Brotherhood may win the Egyptian elections and whether the military should intervene in that case, Levy said “If the Muslim Brotherhood arrives in Egypt, I will not say democracy wants it, so let democracy progress. Of course not. Democracy, again, is not only elections, it is also values.” 

Latching onto Lévy’s remark that “Democracy is not only elections” and totally disregarding his qualifier that “it is also values” Erdoğan has used these words as proof that Israel is behind the Egyptian coup. For those who are interested, the Huffington Post carried Lévy’s long rebuttal on Aug. 26. 

The point, however, is that Lévy is correct in arguing that democracy is not only about elections. It is not a “zero-sum game” devoid of values. Advanced democracy requires that if you are about to embark on a highly controversial military adventure, which could have dire consequences for the country, you have to consult the elected representatives of the people, even if you need not do so in strict terms. 

It is necessary to keep reminding Erdoğan and members of his government that Turkey’s system of government is based on pluralistic democracy, and not on a skewed “winner-takes-all” understanding of democracy.