Erdoğan, as you know

Erdoğan, as you know

A bird’s eye view of the country’s political agenda tells us why President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan felt the need to return to his identity as the “agenda setter,” after choosing to stay a few steps behind Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu in the early days of his new capacity. But it seems he is preparing to get his boots on to return to the active political field, as he has announced that he is planning to chair a Cabinet meeting in early 2015.

We don't know whether it’s because Davutoğlu’s performance as prime minister is far from satisfying the president, or whether he has simply got bored of being idle. However, it’s pretty obvious that the ongoing debate about the size and cost of the new presidential palace has given him some difficulties, as rationalizing such a huge complex is not an easy task. Even staunchly pro-Erdoğan newspapers and news stations have failed to reverse the public perception about the non-essentiality of the palace.

Despite consecutive statements from leading government and ruling party officials to explain why this premises, worth nearly 2 million Turkish Liras, was needed, Erdoğan’s palace remained – and remains – on the immediate political and social agenda of the country. No doubt, the opposition parties and other political groups will try their best to take advantage of the issue in the upcoming election campaign: first as a show of Erdoğan’s growing inclination toward a more authoritarian outlook and second as a strong example of a splurge on behalf of Erdoğan and the government.

Erdoğan’s first attempt to change the agenda came nearly two weeks ago, when he argued that Muslim sailors discovered the American continent some 300 years before Columbus and spread Islam to all of the Americas. The proof was Columbus’ memoirs, in which he talked about a mosque on a Cuban island. Although it hit the headlines of the national and international media, the issue has rapidly dropped from the agenda.

After a tour to Africa, during which he warned all African countries of the activities of what he calls the “parallel structure,” Erdoğan seemed to be more imaginative in his attempt to change the agenda, giving two headlines in one speech delivered at the “Women and Justice Summit,” hosted by the Women and Democracy Association (KADEM).

On women’s issues, he openly challenged the idea of gender equality, saying, “You cannot bring women and men into equal positions; that is against nature because their nature is different.” Erdoğan also slammed feminists, arguing that they don’t know anything about motherhood. The president is well aware that these words will draw strong reactions from women’s organizations, civil society and others, but he perfectly knows that his messages are going to find the right audience among highly conservative, low-educated, low-income groups.

His message on justice was also very strong. Recalling that the Council of State halted the execution of the Galataport two years after its privatization, Erdoğan likened the ruling to “treason.”

“If the president is involved in treason against the country, then he is a criminal. Well, what if the judge is involved in treason against his own country? Why do you deliver such a ruling after two years? What is this? Is this patriotism, is this nationalism?” Erdoğan asked. “How can I have confidence in the judiciary in my own country?”

As he obviously does not have confidence in the judiciary, the government is currently engaging in amending the structures of the supreme judicial institutions, the Supreme Court of Appeals, and the Council of State, at the expense of removing another key check and balance mechanism. Supreme Court of Appeals President Ali Alkan’s outcry on Nov. 25 went nearly unheard in the country, although he rightfully complained that judicial independence was in danger. “How long will this intervention continue?” Alkan asked.

Along with the bill on the judiciary, the government introduced a draft bill publicly known as the “internal security bill.” It empowers the police and governors with super authorities by enlarging their rights on detention, use of weapons and wiretapping, along with 18 other topics. Neither the one on the judiciary nor the one on security are seemingly in harmony with the European Union acquis, despite the fact that the government had promised Brussels that it would discuss such important legislation before taking it to Parliament.

Erdoğan and the government are in a rush to legislate such important bills before Parliament goes into recess on the eve of parliamentary elections. An empowered security establishment to stop any sort of mass protests, a judicial mechanism under the government’s control, along with efforts to silence the mainstream media, seem to constitute Erdoğan and the government’s pre-election campaign.

Erdoğan, as you know, is returning to take the stage.