“There is no better than adversity. Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss, contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve your performance next time,” said Malcolm Little, aka Malcolm X (1925-1965), the well-known American Muslim minister and activist for human rights.
He is best known for advocating for black people’s rights. The cited can be the most significant overview of the Turkish opposition’s last 5 years after Erdoğan’s election as president in the parliamentary system in 2014, in particular.
The general elections took place in 2015 cost the AKP 9 percent of its electoral support as well as its absolute parliamentary majority. It was seen as AKP and PM Erdoğan’s first defeat. The political dominance of AKP and Erdoğan’s plans for an executive presidency quickly shifted discourse and tactics, putting an end to the Kurdish peace process and replacing it with a security-based, national union narrative and hard-line action to recover the right-wing vote. After witnessing a bloody period around the country, Turkey held re-elections in November 2015, and AKP succeeded in regaining its parliamentary majority.
On April 2017, a constitutional referendum was held to approve 18 suggested amendments to the Turkish constitution. The amendments were endorsed by 51% and the current legislative system was substituted by a kind of presidential system. However, the results of the referendum introduced the first sparks of opposition groups; the coasts, the metropolitans (including Istanbul and Ankara) and the southeastern region rejected the new system. Although the new system was approved, it was concluded that it would take effect by the coming elections.
In accordance with the new constitutional amendments, general and presidential elections were held on 24 June 2018. The opposition groups gathered around the main opposition party’s candidate, CHP–Muharrem Ince. Although he raised the hopes of the opposition groups, he could not embrace the whole society in his narrative and attitude, and he was eliminated in the first round. Moreover, his failure to handle the aftermath of the election led the electorate of the opposition to feel deeply disappointed. President Erdoğan, having triumphed in the presidential elections, started to officially transform the long-standing parliamentary system of Turkey into a highly centralized one. However, defining the system was quite difficult; it is a kind of presidential system, but it does not fit any of its examples or definitions. It was, therefore, called the presidential system in Turkish style, which is more like an Unidentified Governing Object. We know there’s a governance system, but we can’t define it. It’s like twilight zone. The new system has put all governmental institutions under the control of the president, and in less than a year it has had dramatic outcomes. It has weakened the institutions while leading to the monopolization of the country’s decision-making process towards president. However, Turkey is a very complicated country in its demography, economy and politics to be ruled from a center. Analysts argue that the system has eroded democracy as well as paved the way for one-man rule.
Local elections on March 31, 2019 (and Istanbul re-do elections on June 23, 2019) verified the decline of the ruling AKP, as was the presidential system’s dysfunction. President Erdoğan and his popularity has been decreasing after 25 years of uninterrupted increase in spite of the reality that he is still the country’s most prominent politician. Despite complete media control and dominance, unfair circumstances, demonizing certain opposition parties or organizations, fear of existence; the opposition succeeded in main metropolitan centers. The opposition won the largest cities in Turkey. Besides the capital Ankara and commercial hub Istanbul, the main cities that shifted to the opposition were Adana, Antalya and Mersin. Adding Izmir, the stronghold of CHP; these cities (including Istanbul) together represent approximately 60% of the population of Turkey and more than 60% of its GDP.
“A Change is Gonna Come”
When analyzing the voting percentages, it can be concluded that the 2015 general elections were the first turning point for AKP and President Erdoğan; moreover, it was the electorate’s first warning signal by taking away the parliamentary majority. Although the constitutional amendments were endorsed by 51%, the 2017 referendum results introduced the first sparks of new formation among opposition groups; the new system was rejected by the coasts, the metropolitans (including Istanbul and Ankara) and the southeastern region. An evident trend of AKP decline and an increase in opposition parties can also be seen when recent local election results are analyzed. Of course, the results of the March 31 local elections and most importantly the June 23 Istanbul re-elections confirm the rejection of current political discourse and narratives of the ruling party and its partner MHP. For President Erdoğan and AKP, this alliance with MHP has become too restrictive. Overdose nationalist strategy, loud anti-opposition discourse, and polarization act against the alliance. The presidential system does not seem to work correctly for a majority of the Turkish population as stated by President Erdoğan and AKP seniors.
Although, President Erdoğan said “We cannot close our ears and ignore the messages given by the people,” , after re-elections in Istanbul, in just one week, Turkish society once more examined the governing party’s judicial tool against opposition groups through lawsuits of Canan Kaftancıoğlu (Istanbul Chair of CHP), Gezi demonstrations, and Meral Akşener (Chair of IYI Party) However, individuals within AKP have begun to express more heavily their increasing dissatisfaction with the new system following the Istanbul election loss. President Erdogan said that the people and country had accepted and adapted to the new system, but indicated that a commission led by VP Fuat Oktay would nevertheless be set up to evaluate possible weaknesses. To find out the deficiencies, faults and what needs to be enhanced in the new government system, thorough research will be performed, the President said, stating new system had been generally adopted by people. The change back to the parliamentary system, as in opposition parties’ requirements, is out of the question, but it is feasible to revise the present system based on “our experience of it” over the previous year, said Bulent Turan, AKP’s parliamentary group’s deputy chairperson.
Speaking to reporters before the group meeting at the Parliament, AK Party parliamentary group Chairman Naci Bostancı said that as lately proposed by some party leaders, there would be no radical change in the presidential system. “It’s just a system assessment. It’s normal to create retrospective evaluations in bureaucratic institutions. That’s the nature of our job,” Bostancı said.
Devlet Bahçeli, Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader and partner in Nation’s alliance, said on July 2 that his party would support legal and administrative reforms to reinforce the new presidential system. “Whatever it takes is going to be done to strengthen and root the presidential system over the next four years that won’t have any elections,” Bahceli told at the parliamentary group of his party.
Abdülkadir Selvi, a Hürriyet newspaper columnist renowned for his close relations with President Erdoğan, stated that President Erdoğan took notes on points of dissatisfaction at the party’s Central Executive Board (MYK) meeting. He asserted that some MPs presented the wrongdoing in applying for the annulment of Istanbul elections to the Supreme Election Board and relayed the perception that the party policies were no longer debated in the party’s appropriate boards. Erdoğan replied to this criticism as it would be a direct insult to him claiming that without consultation he had decided.
According to anonymous statements from AKP quarters, also, indicate that some members question the dual position of Erdogan as president and chairman of the party, and they are seeking a change. None of the analysts, however, expected Erdogan to give up the chairmanship of the AKP or the present system of government to be fundamentally revised.
“The future belongs to those who prepare for it today.”
None of the politicians of the opposition called for an early election. It is widely accepted that an early election might be a lifesaver for President Erdoğan due to current domestic and international difficulties. The analysts argue that the governing party would be further weakened by the financial crisis. Consequently, President Erdoğan’s political space will certainly be restricted. Following the defeat in redo elections, he faced major challenges; not only the dissatisfaction in his party and new party formations in right-wing, but he also owned a tight foreign affairs calendar;i.e S400, Eastern Mediterranean issues, Syria etc. He is therefore at the crossroads; either he will revise the presidential system to make it more flexible and democratic, or he will show off, oppress and limit the domestic political arena. While optimism should be maintained, removing the power of the mayors to appoint executives to municipal firms and firing the Central Bank Chief early Saturday morning are not excellent indications.
For the opposition groups, social reconciliation is the key to every issue. The opposition parties’ mayors should concentrate on projects and solutions at the local level, regardless of the barriers the ruling party brings. Hard work is definitely going to pay off. Changing the established system from top to bottom; the new narrative will suffice with pluralism, democracy and rule of law. Moreover, ordinary citizens should also contribute to the restoration of democracy, because corruption must be stopped and development models should be produced in many fields; from legislation to education, science to sport, art and media. Civil society participation is, therefore, a must; this may be local or national, but we must contribute within our knowledge to the system to be established. Reconstruction of the system is not just a task for leaders; it is, on the contrary, a process that should be contributed by everyone. Hence, we need to get out of the comfort zone that gives us the luxury of believing someone should be in command, there is someone to praise or blame, or someone to evaluate and implement on our behalf. As Malcolm X says “Tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today. Nobody can give you freedom. Nobody can give you equality or justice or anything.”
Other highlights from past week
Haftar’s forces release Turkish citizens in Libya
According to the Turkish Foreign Ministry, six Turkish people arrested in Libya by forces loyal to rebel army commander Khalifa Haftar were released. “Detention of 6 Turkish citizens by Hafter’s illegal militia in Libya is an act of banditry and piracy. We expect our citizens to be released immediately. Otherwise, Hafter elements will become legitimate targets,” Turkish MFA stated on June 30.
A day after the release of Turkish sailors Turkey’s special envoy to Libya Emrullah Isler criticized the illegal detention of six Turkish sailors and added, “These detentions disclosed that the organizations related to militia leader Haftar, who has put Libya into crisis in 2014 and since 2016 has shut all the gates to a political solution, can be as radical as terrorists.”
On June 5, President Erdogan met with Libya’s National Accord Government (GNA) head Fayez al Sarraj in Istanbul to discuss bilateral relations between Turkey and Libya, latest developments in the North African country, and regional problems. The president said he backed al Sarraj for peace and stability in Libya and called for an end to attacks by Libyan warlord Haftar’s illegal militia.
Cemil Bayık writes for WP
Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement regarding an article by Cemil Bayık on Washington Post on June 3, 2019. “One of the ringleaders of PKK which has brutally killed tens of thousands of innocent people and officially designated as a terrorist organization in many countries, including the USA, overtly engaged in terrorist propaganda by making use of the Washington Post. Through the said publication, one of the core commitments undertaken by the international community, namely the principle of the prevention of incitement to terror has heavily been violated. It is essential that no distinction should be made among the terrorist organizations. The aforementioned stance has been capitalized on by PKK as a tool of terrorist propaganda and is in contravention of the sensitivity displayed regarding other terrorist organizations such as DAESH and Al Qaida. Hence, it constitutes a new and fatal example of hypocrisy in the fight against terrorism,” stated the Ministry.
In a live interview on TRT, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs, also emphasized that the article did not fall under the freedom of the press and speech and that it is terrorist propaganda.
President Erdogan Ousts Central Bank Chief
President Erdogan removed Murat Cetinkaya from chief of the central bank after an informal request for resignation was said to be rejected. The move was made by a presidential decree in the early hours of July 6, 2019 on Saturday. Although no formal reason was provided for sacking, it is argued that it could be caused by the disagreements between them over the timing of interest rate reductions.