Back to the old Turkey

Back to the old Turkey

Could it be said milder by anyone? Skillfully, Hürriyet Daily News Editor-in-Chief Murat Yetkin put it in his weekend editorial: Ahmet Davutoğlu, the last prime minister of the first Turkish Republic?

The sun and 16 stars emblem of the presidency and priceless collections of the old republic’s presidential office and residence were all removed and carried away to the lush and grandiose new palace of the new republic and a president aspiring to convert the state into a neo-Ottoman one with an elected sultan - if conditions allow, for life-time.

No one is hiding the intention. On TV screens once again, with his bass voice and burning eyes, the president was lashing out at those who dared to say that under the country’s current system businessmen ought to deal with the prime minister. “Who are you?” he said, in a typically arrogant President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan style, “My people have decided to deal with me…”

That will be the key feature of the new, yet old-ish and perhaps too old, Turkey; an imperial style, arrogant and somehow populist to the extent populism serves the purpose of consolidating power, or distracting attention from other issues. The absolute ruler of the country would express his wish and the rest would cater to his wishes. Could that be compatible with democracy, the rule of law and equality for all in front of the law or any other landmark of democratic governance? Who cares?

For that reason in particular, but also because of a huge set of other reasons, Turkey should think very seriously about Erdoğan’s push for a new constitution that might usher presidential or semi-presidential governance into the country. It is no secret, he even said it publicly, that Erdoğan wants to move on to at least semi-presidential governance, and for that he wants “his” ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to get sufficient votes in the June elections to produce around 400 deputies. 367 seats, or two-thirds of the overall 550 seats in parliament, would be enough, but he likes to have some space to maneuver. Who knows, even though such a probability will be no less than hens laying eggs, perhaps some AKP deputies might decide to think on their own for a change and refuse the country move on to an elected dictatorship with their humble votes.

In modern democratic societies, the participation of the people in the administration and the constitutionally-protected right to information can only function with the freedom of press and expression. It is unfortunate that in many international reports, one after the other, Turkey appears right at the bottom of transparency, freedom of expression and freedom of media lists, but right at the top when it comes to corruption. It is not because of a deficiency in Turkish laws that rampant corruption can de facto enjoy official protection this way or the other while the constitutionally-protected right to information, thus the right to make informed choices, is grossly and systematically violated. This is a mentality problem.

It was rather difficult to cut short the draft annual report of the EU-supported Press for Freedom project of the Association of Journalists. The report, which will be released today in Ankara, documents vividly the very sad situation of the Turkish intellectual climate. As was seen in reports from international watchdog groups, 2015 will unfortunately be perhaps even worse than 2014, which is considered the worst year in recent times in regards to rights and freedoms by a majority of activists.

Yelling at people may help to silence the crowds and buy their allegiance for some time. This atmosphere of fear that has covered the country so thickly over the past decade, however, might be incomparable with what might be in store should the country move on to a new governance model – which, in fact, would be a consolidated version of the current de facto situation. Who is the chief executive in the country today? Is legitimizing his presidential powers what Erdoğan wants to achieve? Right, the powers he has been using since being elected president were atypical for his predecessors, but they were all enshrined in the 1982 constitution. What he lacked was moral legitimacy; he wants to achieve that with a constitutional amendment or by writing a new constitution.

While that appears to be a far-fetched goal or an utopia for now, for the sake of stability and a few bucks in their pockets this “quake-ridden” nation might even go to the extent of delivering Erdoğan’s wild dreams.
Will that be for the good of Turkey? Well, as is often said, “even Sultan Suleiman could not last forever.” It must have been a nightmare for the intellectuals of the early 1920’s to think of abandoning the empire and continuing on with a new and secular republic. It is a nightmare for most of us to abandon the secular republic and continue on with an Islamist sultanate… But, life will continue and correct itself again in time.