Constitutional crisis at Turkey’s doorstep

Turkey is going to elections on Sunday and it is not a pretty sight. Some 55 million voters will have to decide between three presidential candidates in a venomous atmosphere with insufficient enthusiasm, a blurred sense of fair competition and without any rational debate on what this historic choice will be about, as the country’s political climate raises the alarm to higher levels as the days go by.

Instead, as voter groups are as alienated as ever from each other, driven to rifts and hatred and bombarded by a barrage of propaganda, injected paranoia and blocked by a media censoring realities, the choice is doomed to be seen as a referendum — and, in a sense, a grand jury trial — over a single person, whose discourse and deeds are the cause of the not-at-all-pretty sight.

All the roads to the ballot boxes on Sunday are covered with political and legal debris — a personal product of the “master,” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Dark clouds having already gathered and a storm of unknown proportions is ahead which results from the misconduct of the political powers, escalating since the Uludere bombing, killing 34 Kurdish villagers, the Gezi protests and the massive graft scandals.

All responses to social dissent and demands of justice for all have clearly exposed an unstoppable drift to autocratic rule, melting away whatever is left of the independence of the judiciary and terminating the separation of powers.

It could have been a much prettier sight, domestically speaking. In a cycle of 12 years, what was widely expected of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its leader, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, was the completion of normalization in the country which would leave behind the culture of oppressive and political mismanagement.

Instead of democratization and the redistribution of power it requires, Turks are now either gloomily aware, or largely insensitive — and some others pushed to false hopes — that those very powers are being accumulated exclusively in and around a single person, who apparently dreamed of a Middle Eastern or Central Asian way of governing and finally decided not to make a secret of it. Therein lies the fact why a storm of unknown consequences is to follow if the outcome will be as many polling institutions predict.

The latest poll, by the reliable KONDA pollsters, indicate that Erdoğan is to win by a large margin. The latest survey, conducted in the first week of August, suggests that he will get 57 percent of the vote. Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, the main opposition parties’ joint candidate, will recieve 34 percent, with Selahattin Demirtaş, the Peoples’ Democratic Party’s (HDP) candidate, tipped to receive 9 percent, which would mean a failure to pass the politically critical 10 percent threshold.

“If Recep Tayyip Erdoğan wins in the first round, I am afraid he will interpret the outcome as a license to continue with his authoritarian policies,” wrote Suat Kınıklıoğlu in his column.

Not only that; if he wins by 55 percent or above, he will victoriously declare an “acquittal” of all the accusations directed against him and his close circles. He will suggest much more loudly that people forget about them.

Even if Erdoğan wins by a smaller margin, or the election runs to a second leg, Turkey without a doubt will be dragged into a constitutional crisis. In the short run, Erdoğan (if he wins) must immediately notify President Abdullah Gül who his interim successor as prime minister will be, since as soon as the election result is clear, his prime ministry will end. So far we have no indication of whether or not he has done that.

An even deeper mess is ahead. The presidential oath includes a commitment to impartiality, which Erdoğan has already defied by talking about how “active” he will be. As soon as he announces his intention of chairing the Cabinet, he will be accused of a constitutional breach. Furthermore, the leaders of the opposition, citing this and also having been so sharply humiliated by his speeches, will most probably refuse to meet him.

In the wider context, a de-facto presidential model will mean that Turkey’s constitutional order will be seen as suspended. How the public will react is an open question. As the debate reaches new heights, Erdoğan might confidently declare early elections in a hope to gain a sufficient parliamentary majority to amend the Constitution to his personal advantage.


About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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