Turkey at the start of one-man rule

1. Yesterday (Monday) Recep Tayyıp Erdoğan took office under the system of executive presidency, which gives him arbitrary personalised powers, based on the claim that a system of such extreme powers for one person is the most democratic system if that person is elected. The changes came about as the result of a referendum last year, which gave a narrow victory for the constitutional changes. It seems to me, and many others, that rigging allowed victory in the election. For the first time in Turkey, all ballot papers unstamped by an electoral officer were counted, allowing unlimited fraud. There are other issues about intimidation and irregularities, but this is not the moment to go into further detail, but I will just point out that radical changes to the constitution were ‘legitimised’ by pseudo-democratic fraud.

2. The constitutional changes enable the President to: legislate by decree, appoint most Constitutional court judges, appoint the army chiefs, appoint police chiefs, appoint all higher level members of the bureaucracy, appoint government ministers and vice-presidents without reference to the National Assembly. There is no Prime Minister. The President, Vice-Presidents, and Ministers are not obliged to answer questions in the National Assembly. In principle the National Assembly can reverse decrees as laws, but to allow the President to legislate in such an unaccountable way in the first place undermines all understanding of what a national assembly is for and what the limits on the head of government or head of state (now the same person) should be in a state which is constitutional and democratic.

3. Ministerial appointments have most notably included the elevation of Erdoğan’s son-in-law, Berat Albayrak, to the Ministry of Treasury and Finance. Albayrak is a major businessman whose rise in business and then politics have taken place since Erdoğan became the most powerful man in Turkey in 2002.

4. Other appointments have given business people ministerial posts for areas of the economy in which they have a dominant market position. Erdoğan’s own family doctor who owns a medical business is health minister. The education minister owns a private college.

5. The appointments of business people and a son-in-law show carelessness about propriety in the separation of the administration of public affairs from private and family interests, to put it in the mildest way possible. It also suggests that Erdoğan thinks he is too big for the party which brought him to power, AKP. It has been clear for some time that the most powerful people in the AKP are this son-in-law and one of the sons. That is, the AKP exists as a vehicle of one family, and its businesses associates. In this case, it is hardly a properly functioning democratic party.

6. The appointments were preceded by a presidential decree on the appointment of the governor and vice-governors of the central bank, which reduces its autonomy and makes it more vulnerable to Presidential pressure. Erdoğan has clearly been struggling to live with central bank decisions to raise interest rates in response to inflation and the falling value of the Turkish Lira. Anyway, the currency lost 20% of its value and inflation is at nearly 16% though the central bank’s target is 5%.

7. Market confidence in Turkey, even of a very minimal kind, was resting on one man, Mehmet Şimşek, who has western training in economics and is the last remnant of the days when the AKP appeared to many to be a centre-right reformist party, and did manage to behave in part like such a party. Şimşek appears to have been increasingly unhappy with his situation, putting a rational face on polices he knows are going in the wrong direction, occasionally winning battles to raise interest rates. One of Erdoğan’s main obsessions is that interest creates inflation. He has found it necessary to curtail that belief on occasions. Şimşek apparently wanted to resign from government recently, but no one ‘betrays’ Erdoğan in that way. Şimşek was bullied into staying and has now been sacked. His replacement is Erdoğan’s son-in- law. The markets have been spooked and the lira fell very sharply yesterday evening.

8. The Erdoğanists do have a solution to lack of international market confidence in Turkey. It is to create a Turkish ratings authority which will rate Turkish government credit as the government wishes! This absurd proposal, which will only reduce the credibility of the lira and government debt, shows the depths to which economic policy run on political paranoia has sunk in Turkey. Political paranoia because low credit ratings are due to foreign conspiracies!

9. Going back to last month’s election, about 2% of ballots cast have been declared invalid by the Supreme Electoral Council. HDP (Kurdish rights and leftist party) has pointed out that most ‘invalid’ ballots are from polling stations where it did not have observers. The HDP is defined as ‘terrorist’ by the followers of Erdoğan and its presidential candidate is in prison on ‘terrorism’ charges. This is all based not on credible evidence of co-operation with the PKK, which does have common roots with HDP, but on absurdly broad definitions of terrorism which take in people who do not oppose the PKK enough or which offer any criticism of state policy towards the PKK.

10. Based on point 9, it looks very much like 2% of votes cast were spoiled to take votes from the HDP. It hardly seems likely that would be the limit of fraud. As mentioned in point 1, all ballots were counted which did not have the basic security guarantee of a stamp from an electoral official on the ballot itself or the envelope containing the ballot. It is inherently difficult to arrive at accurate figures in this matter, but it looks very much like at least 4% of the ballot was fixed (that would merely double the most obvious form of rigging, which I do not think is an extravagant assumption, after all most rigging will take place in very hidden ways). If I am correct then the pro-Erdoğan electoral list for the National Assembly did not get a majority of votes and Erdoğan did not get a majority of votes in the presidential election.

11. The government-state machine extends claims that the HDP is terrorist to the main opposition party, CHP, on the grounds that the CHP has offered some criticisms of the detention of the HDP presidential candidate, and that some CHP supporters voted HDP to help it overcome fraud and reach the 10% of votes necessary to enter the National Assembly. CHP provincial leaders have been banned from attending the funerals of soldiers killed by the PKK, soldiers who in some cases will be CHP supporters, showing the kind of spite, vengefulness, and abuse of state power driving the AKP.

12. The Istanbul municipal government has announced that public transport will be ‘only’ half price during next month’s Kurban Bayram (Sacrifice Festival; religious festival and public holiday) instead of free as has been normal for a long time. This shows the strains that public finances are under in Turkey. The AKP are specialists in providing ‘free’ benefits to electors, along with favours for individuals and families, building up a base in local government in this way before they came to power nationally. The Istanbul news is a small thing in itself, but is suggestive of a decline in the capacity of the AKP to use public money to buy votes.

13. Given increasing personal indebtedness, rising inflation, the falling value of the currency, the decline of foreign investment and the credibility of government debt instruments, we could see some very difficult economic times in Turkey. It is clear that this process was important in holding the recent election 18 months early. The loyalty of the AKP and Erdoğanist base is intense, but was formed at a time of economic growth and expanding public services. We see going to see what happens to loyalty in less happy circumstances.

Turkey after the Election

Grim Facts

Turkey held National Assembly and Presidential elections last Sunday (24th June). Recep Tayyıp Erdoğan won an overall majority of votes and retained the presidency without a second round of voting. The pro-Erdoğan electoral list of his AKP (Justice and Development Party/Adelet ve Kalkınma Partisi) and the older (the second oldest party in Turkey) but smaller MHP (Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi/Nationalist Action Party) took a majority of votes. The MHP took more votes than the breakaway Good Party (İYİ Parti/IP), though IP’s leader (Meral Akşener) is more popular than the MHP leader (Devlet Bahçeli) and the IP has more members.

The MHP broke through the 10% barrier to entry into the National Assembly in the votes cast for it, within the joint electoral list, though it was mostly expected to fall short by a distinct margin. Since the more moderate elements of the MHP joined IP, MHP forms part of a presidential majority in the National Assembly, with its authoritarian monolithic variety of nationalism unrestrained.

The main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi/CHP, a centre left and secularist-republican party), lost about one tenth of its National Assembly votes. The third party in the opposition electoral list, SP (Saadet Partisi/Felicity Party), a religious conservative party with the same roots as AKP, failed to get up to 1% in either the presidential or National Assembly elections, thus failing to increase its vote significantly and failing to take any notable fraction of the AKP vote.

CHP and then IP leaders failed to live up to promises to demonstrate outside the Supreme Election Council building in Turkey to protest against likely electoral rigging. Opposition data on voting gathered by election monitors ended up almost entirely coinciding with ‘official’ results (strictly speaking official results will not be available until 5th July) and earlier information is preliminary only.

Qualification of Grim Facts 

The above gives the bare facts about the results with regard to the most disappointing aspects from the point of view of the opposition. This is a disappointing result for anyone opposed to the authoritarian regime of Recep Tayyıp Erdoğan, which began by appealing to supporters of reform in a country with rather limited liberalism in its democracy.

Erdoğan has since made it clear that he regards democracy as the unlimited power of one man who claims to represent the People against liberal, westernised, secularist, and leftist ‘elites’ and ‘marginals’, along with foreign and foreign manipulated conspiracies against the Nation.

One qualification to the bad news above is that the opposition during the election is fighting against bias, exclusion, threatening accusations, harassment, violence and legal persecution from the state apparatus, state media, private media effectively under state direction (which is most of the private media), and gangs of thugs, some armed. At the very least the opposition held its ground in terrible circumstances, which have been getting continuously worse for years.

Another ‘optimistic’ aspect is that while there was certainly some vote rigging of a kind it was difficult for opposition monitors to capture. This includes pre-marked voting ballots. As in last year’s referendum vote, videos of pre-marking of ballots have been circulating on social media.

In the referendum campaign the electoral authorities broke the law by accepting ballot papers which had not been stamped by a polling station official. This was legalised in time for the election and broadened to allow counting of ballot papers in unstamped envelopes.

Legal changes have also made it easier for state authorities to move polling stations and remove ballot boxes from polling stations to be counted elsewhere. On a less official level, reports indicate harassment of voters by armed gangs and some employers requiring evidence from a phone camera photograph of voting for the government.

There have been problems for decades with polling stations (especially in areas where the opposition does not send monitors because of a small local base) ignoring opposition votes and recording ‘100%’ for the party in control of the state at the time.

It is very difficult to know what the overall number of votes is changed by these malpractices. It is, however, clear that the southeast of the country (that is the Kurdish majority region) is much more vulnerable to such practices because of the atmosphere created by PKK (far left Kurdish autonomy terrorist/insurgent group) and the security-state counter operations.

The main Kurdish identity party, the leftist HDP (Halkların Demokratik Partisi/Peoples’ Democratic Party), competes with the AKP for first place in the southeast. It is regularly accused of supporting PKK terrorism and even of being an organic part of the PKK in government oriented media and legal cases opened by highly politicised state prosecutors.

There is certainly overlap between PKK sympathisers and HDP supporters, but ‘evidence’ that the HDP supports terrorism consists of statements calling for peace, criticising security operations against the PKK and it’s Syrian partner (PYD), and criticising state policy towards the PKK. Whatever one might think of the HDP’s policies and statements, these are not evidence that it is a terrorist organisation. The idea that it is legitimises official harassment (including imprisonment) and less officials forms of intimidation and vote rigging. It also legitimises less widespread but very real harassment of the CHP on the grounds that some supporters voted HDP to get is past the 10% thresh hold and, in a limited and very moderate way, the CHP has expressed some sympathy for persecuted HDP leaders and activists.

I can only make guesses but I think it is reasonable to estimate that 1% of votes have been historically manipulated and that this has increased along with the strengthening grip of the AKP on the state and parts of civil society, and also with its increasing demonisation of opposition.

I’ll estimate 3% for the votes manipulated.

Election evening results indicated just over 53% for Erdoğan as president and for the electoral list backing him. This has however been going down as later ‘preliminary’ results so it may now be about 52% for both votes. In this case, if 3% of votes are manipulated (a very sober estimate in my view) then we could be looking at 49% for Erdoğan and his supporters. This might still give a slight majority in the National Assembly, as distribution of seats is biased towards rural and small town conservative areas, and since 100% of votes are not represented by seats in the National Assembly in even the most pure form of proportional representation (because there are always some micro-parties which get some votes but do not enter the National Assembly).

A run-off for president after Erdoğan gets 49% seems very likely to still set up Erdoğan as the winner in the second round. It is of course wrong in principle to rig at this level but it doesn’t change anything important presuming rigging is at the level I’ve suggested. I will have a clearer idea about this when all results are officially released on 5th July.

On further relatively good news, the CHP vote in the presidential election was at 30%, about one fifth higher than before.

The presidential candidate Muharrem İnce turned out to be an inspiring campaigner and public speaker able to appeal to a variety of sections of Turkish society. He seems like a natural fit for the leadership of CHP, though so far the incumbent, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has been slow to step down and clear the way.,

The final results seem likely to show at least a slight decline for Erdoğan since the 2014 presidential election. IP is new and has no local government base. As there are local elections at the end of March next year, they should be able to establish local strongholds and build on that nationally.

The AKP does not have a majority in the National Assembly for the first time since 2002. MHP makes up the majority at present and as stated above seems likely to behave in a very nationalist-authoritarian way. However, its vote seems to have been increased by disaffected AKP voters (particularly in the southeast) who are not ready, so far, to vote against Erdoğan and a pro-Erdoğan electoral list. This makes their support rather unstable and the MHP is likely to see advantage in turning away from Erdoğan at some point, or at least cause him trouble by asserting its independence. Erdoğan is not someone to welcome, or live with, this kind of division in his support bloc and a conflict of some kind seems likely at some point.

More on the Turkish Elections

This is a sequel to my recent post Turkish Elections: Some Hope, so is best read after reading its predecessor.

In the last post, I covered the National Assembly elections on the 24th June. The first round of the presidential elections will take place on the same day and there will be a run-off between the two main candidates on the 8th July, if no candidate gets more than 50% on the first round.

As by far the strongest personality in Turkish politics over the last 15 years, Recep Tayyıp Erdoğan was no doubt expecting to win in the first round easily. He did so in 2014 when he was first elected to the presidency at a time when the president’s powers were much smaller. The two largest opposition parties of the time (CHP and MHP) put up a joint presidential candidate little known to the public and who did become much better known during the campaign. The campaign was in fact a surrender to Erdoğan who went on to ignore the constitutional limits on the presidency and push through plans for a presidential republic with little of the checks and balances known in other presidential republics, at least those in established democracies.

This presidential campaign has been an unpleasant surprise for Erdoğan. He has turned the MHP into a satellite party which supports him for the presidency. The cost of that, however, is that he has tied himself to a declining party in an attempt to compensate for a weakening of AKP (Erdoğan’s party) support since the days when it got 50% and over of the electorate.

The opposition has now found an energy unprecedented during the Erdoğan-AKP years (since 2002). It has turned the first round of the presidential election into a run-off to decide who will face Erdoğan in the second round, maximising opposition strength as its candidates enthuse different sectors of Turkish society against the current regime. It now looks impossible for Erdoğan to win the first round (without the help of rigging which is a real danger).

Some thought the opposition had already failed the presidential election when Abdullah Gül, who was President before Erdoğan, declined to run as a candidate of the small opposition religious conservative party SP. The idea around was that the two main opposition parties would accept him as a joint candidate. It is not clear this would have ever happened, and anyway Gül declined to run. He had been a founder of the AKP, but has not re-joined since leaving the office of President in 2014. At that time the President was required to resign from any political party. Gül has made indirect criticisms of the AKP under Erdoğan, but is a non-confrontational politician who has not put himself in clear opposition to Erdoğan and few expected he ever would. Some had the attitude that Gül was the only chance of the opposition winning the presidential election. I was never convinced myself. Adopting an AKP politician central to the AKP’s colonisation of the state and parts of civil society, particularly the main media companies, would have been a defeatist gesture, particularly given Gül’s own lack of energy in very stark contrast with Erdoğan.

The four largest opposition parties will all run presidential candidates, though three of these parties have formed a joint list for the National Assembly elections. Two of these candidates have a real chance to win. That is Meral Akşener and Muharrem İnce. Akşener is the leader of the second opposition party, İYİ, which broke away from the MHP. It has overtaken the MHP as the largest nationalist party. Though it has a clearly nationalist orientation, mixing Atatürk republicanism with nostalgia for the Ottomans and pre-Ottoman Turkish leaders, it has a a milder version of this than the MHP. İnce is a centre-left secularist CHP politician who previously tried to replace Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu as leader of the CHP.

Kılıçdaroğlu is not a strong public personality and has often been dismissed even by CHP sympathisers. However, he did a good job of keeping the CHP relevant in the period after the coup attempt of July 2016, when Erdoğan seemed to be achieving even more complete domination of Turkish public life. Kılıçdaroglu most famously led a Justice March from Ankara to Istanbul last summer, usefully turning his anti-charisma reputation into an image of quiet decency and endurance, marching for many days under a hot Turkish sun, though he is in his late 60s and there were constant fears of state promoted violence against the march.

Kılıçdaroğlu was again dismissed as too passive at the time Gül declined to run, and Kılicdaroğlu ruled himself out of the Presidential contest. It has turned out that he has maximised his strengths and weaknesses, by showing the inner self-confidence to allow his rival İnce to run for the most powerful office in Turkey. İnce has been a great campaigner so far and is doing better than I expected.

I thought Akşener would easily be the strongest opposition candidate, and she is doing well, but is very close to İnce, both for getting through to the second round and defeating Erdoğan. The latest opinion polls suggest Erdoğan would beat both but by a very small margin, meaning that a strong campaign by İnce or Akşener could win in the end, particularly if supporters of rival parties turn out in a spirit of unity for change.

The general thinking in Turkey now is that the opposition is likely to win the National Assembly but not the Presidency. Nevertheless the presidential contest is going far better than expected for the opposition and Erdoğan could look very diminished running in the second round after the AKP-MHP electoral list loses the National Assembly (where it currently has a two-thirds majority). İnce represents the most leftist and most nationalist element of the CHP. This combination is not unusual in Turkey, though left-nationalists prefer to identify themselves through the Turkish word for patriot rather than nationalist. I thought this would be a problem for İnce, in that he might be a negative both for Kurdish and centrist voters, but he has shown a capacity to reach out and make gestures to these sectors. Since the CHP National Assembly list has reduced the number of left-nationalists, his presidency would not be the unconstrained triumph of that particular point of view.

Turkish Elections: Some Hope

What with being rather exhausted by an accumulation of projects in recent months, I have been extremely absent from Notes On Liberty. Teaching is over for the summer and I hope to make up for lost ground across a few areas, but first I must address the current situation in Turkey.

There will be early elections on 24th June for the National Assembly and the Presidency. If no candidates win an overall majority for the presidency, there will be a run off between the two leading candidates on 8th July. The National Assembly is elected through proportional representation (d’Hondt system, if you’re interested in the details). The elections were scheduled for November next year, so they are very early. The reason offered by the government is the need to complete the transition to a strongly presidential system in view of supposed administrative uncertainty interfering with government until the last stage of the constitutional change, which is triggered by the next election after last year’s constitutional referendum, and the supposed need for ‘strong’ presidential government to deal with the present situation in Syria and Iraq.

However, anyone who is not a hopelessly naive follower of regime publicity knows that the real reasons are the decline in the economy and the rise of a right-wing party opposed to the current regime, which could erode the regime’s electoral base. I use the term ‘regime’ deliberately to refer to the fusion of the AKP (dominant political power), the personalised power of President Erdoğan and the state apparatus, including the judiciary. There is no state independent of a party power which itself has become subordinate to the will of one man. The police, judiciary, and prosecution service are quite obviously biased towards the government. Civil society has not escaped the hegemonising pressure. All the main media companies are controlled by cronies of Erdoğan and the AKP. Both state media and the main commercial media present a government point of view with little coverage of the opposition. Private media companies are of course entitled to push their own opinions, but these opinions are in reality dictated by Erdoğan, with the calculated intention of excluding opposition points of view except in highly parodic and manipulated terms. The construction industry is forced to support Erdoğan in order to obtain contracts for the endless pubic projects and projects officially or de facto guaranteed by the tax payer. This instrument of political control is enhanced through endless, often grandiose projects regardless of the state of public and private debt. In this politics, interest rates are artificially low with the consequence that inflation is rising and the currency is constantly devalued in international markets.

A lot of the above will be already understood by readers, but particularly after a long break in writing I think it is important to set the scene for the elections. Whatever the AKP says in public about economic performance, officials have admitted in private that they are worried about an economic crisis before the regular date for the elections. It is also clear that the AKP hoped to keep the new right-wing party IYI (Good) out of the elections because of the complex registration process to participate in elections, amongst other things requiring registration of a minimum number of provincial branches. IYI is a break away from the well established Nationalist Action Party (MHP), and is already larger in members with more opinion poll support, so its exclusion would be particularly absurd.

The IYI Party’s problems with registration were resolved in ways that are part of the hope that does exist in this election. The main opposition party (and oldest party in Turkey), the leadership of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), which has a left-wing and secularist identity, allowed (or maybe insisted) that enough of its deputies in the National Assembly join the small group of IYI defectors from the MHP to guarantee an automatic right to electoral participation.

President Recep Tayyıp Erdoğan was only able to change the constitution to make it a very strongly presidential system, rather than a parliamentary system as it had been, because the MHP changed its position after years of critcising Erdoğan. The pretext was ‘unity’ after the attempted coup of 2016, though it was clear the whole country was against it anyway. The real reason was that the MHP has been losing support under a leader who has become unpopular and the only hope of staying in the National Assembly, given a 10% threshold, was an electoral deal with the AKP (which stands for Justice and Development Party). The election law was changed so that parties can form joint electoral lists in which voters can choose between parties in the list when voting, and the party concerned can have deputies so long as the votes within the list allow at least one to get into the National Assembly. In effect, the percentage threshold to enter the National Assembly has been reduced to less than 1%. This seemed to the AKP to be a great achievement allowing them to compensate for declining support of both AKP and MHP by joining them in one list and bringing in another small nationalist party.

However, the opposition has moved to make more use of the new rules. The CHP and IYI have formed a joint list, which also include SP (Felicity Party), a religious conservative party which has common roots with the AKP and is the sixth party in Turkey in support (about 2.5 % in recent polls). A small centre right party has candidates on the IYI list within the joint list. The Liberal Democrat Party, which is classical liberal and libertarian in orientation, but is very small, has a candidate who used to be LDP leader on the CHP list within the list. This is a bit complicated, but the success of putting this complex alliance together shows there is hope of various forces opposed to the authoritarian slide for various reasons uniting around common goals of a more restrained state, rule of law, less personalisation of power and a more consensual institutionally constrained style of government.

The other important force is HDP (People’s Democratic party), itself an alliance of small leftist groups with a Kurdish identity and leftist party which has strong support in the southeast. The HDP promotes peace in the southeast through negotiation between the state and the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ party) armed insurgent/terrorist group. There is no organic link I can see between the HDP and the PKK, but the overlapping aims of the PKK and HDP for Kurdish autonomy and political recognition of the PKK has always made it easy to label the HDP as terrorist. It is simply not possible in these circumstances to include it in a broad opposition list, particularly given the attempts of the regime to block the HDP from any political activity: labeling it “terrorist,” arresting its leaders and many mayors leading to central government take over of HDP municipalities in the southeast. However, the opposition on current poll ratings needs the HDP to get past the 10% threshold to deprive the AKP-MHP list of a majority in the National Assembly. The main list might do it on its own, but this is less than certain. There is a risk of electoral rigging influencing the result, particularly in the southeast which is under even more authoritarian security state conditions than the rest of the country. It is therefore important for the HDP to get clearly more than 10% and to get votes from people who might otherwise vote CHP, outside the southeast to get pass any dirty tricks.

This is already long so I will stop and return to the Turkish elections soon. I hope readers have got to the end of this and have a reasonable background now for future posts.

Coup and Counter Coup VI: Presidential Authoritarianism in Turkey

(Previous posts here, here, here, here and here). The state of emergency proclaimed by President Erdoğan in Turkey on 20th July last year, in response to the coup attempt of five days before, is not a situation that will come to an end in a return to normality. It is the model for the presidential system that Erdoğan has been pushing for since 2007, when he was still admired by many liberal minded people inside Turkey (though not me) and abroad. One of the key provisions of the state of emergency is that the President can issue decrees with the force of law. There are doubts about the constitutionality of this form of ‘law making’ but two members of the Constitutional Court were arrested after the coup attempt and the chances of the court starting up to executive power are now extremely remote. Judges and prosecutors have been demoted and even arrested after making the ‘wrong’ decision during the state of emergency and I do not think Erdoğan and his associates would have any scruples at all about further arrests of judges in the Constitutional Court.

The Presidential system, or one person rule system, which Turks will vote on, will retain the decrees as law powers of the Presidency. There are some limits on the decrees issued, but as the President will control the appointment of most of the senior judiciary there are serious questions about whether the Constitutional Court will put any effective break on these powers to legislate through decree. There is no sign of the state of emergency ending, though at least now everyone can see the deception in the original decision to declare a state of emergency for three months only instead of the six months maximum allowed in the Constitution. The state of emergency is renewed every three months with no debate and no indication of when it will come to an end. Does Erdoğan have any intention of ending the state of emergency before he becomes a President elected with the new powers? In principle these powers should only be implemented after the next presidential election in 2019, coinciding with elections to the National Assembly. Erdoğan may wish to bring these elections forward, particularly for the National Assembly if he loses the referendum. While it may seem outrageous for the Council of Ministers to keep prolonging the state of emergency until 2019, the AKP government has been doing more and more previously outrageous and even unimaginable things now for some years, particularly since the Gezi protests of 2013.

What the state of emergency also means is that suspects can be held without charge and access to lawyers if charged with ‘terrorism’, which is defined in absurdly broad ways to cover any kind of contact with the Gülenists or sympathy for the Kurdish autonomy movement. Torture has been making a return in Turkey after becoming relatively unusual since the PKK terror campaign began again in 2015. The state of emergency conditions have now normalised it completely and though the government denies torture charges, in the normal manner of authoritarian regimes, claiming the charges are terrorist propaganda, you have to wonder how seriously they expect anyone to take the denials. Photographs of the alleged coup plotters immediately after the coup attempt showed they had been badly beaten, though of course this is explained away as the result of ‘resisting arrest’, another time-honoured evasion. Consistent reports suggest prisoners are denied food, placed in stress positions for long periods of time, beaten and sexually assaulted. In the more moderate cases, the prison officials merely restrict prisoners to a diet of bread and bad quality tap water in conditions of psychological abuse. There is amongst everything else in Turkey a growing problem of mental and emotion health problems amongst the survivors of these ordeals, which are of course excluded from the mainstream media.

The rhetoric and abuse used by police ‘special teams’ invading the media and political offices of ‘terrorist’, that is Kurdish autonomy and other leftist groups, involve extreme nationalism and Ottomanism. Kurds are insulted as covert Armenians. Actual Armenians are told that the Ottomans destroyed the Armenians and that Turks are the masters of Armenian. A particularly disgusting reference to the massacre of 1 500 000 Armenians during World War One. These are not aberrations, this behaviour reflects the deep ideology of the AKP, mixing extreme nationalism and Ottomanism, of course ignoring the tensions between these positions. The torture and abuse is legitimated in the minds of perpetrators by a political rhetoric and government measures which present opponents as terrorist and part of international conspiracies against the ‘innocent’ Turks who are so good they are naive. This I am afraid is no exaggeration of the political discourse of the moment.

There is no reason to think the abuse and political extremism will end, though of course we should hope it does. If all Gülenists – real and imagined – and all sympathisers with Kurdish autonomy or the far left are targeted, then there are essentially endless opportunities for authoritarianism, polarising dehumanising rhetoric and abuse. I can only presume the current atmosphere will last indefinitely, as Erdoğan has found it a successful strategy for staying in power and increasing his power.

It is of course not just a question of his own political power. There is the question of how his family occupy places of privilege in large Muslims NGOs (at the same time as non-AKP oriented NGOs come under increasing pressure) with huge budgets and sit on the boards of major companies in Turkey. Erdoğan does not envisage any situation in which these activities are placed under mainstream media examination, and even less legal investigation. The issue of legal immunity is a huge one in Turkish politics. The amended constitution would allow the President to appoint anyone to two vice presidential positions and to the cabinet. Like the President all these people would have lifetime immunity from prosecution for activities undertaken while in office. Though the National Assembly would have the power to send the President to the Constitutional Court, this requires a very high threshold, clearly designed to protect Erdoğan even if the AKP loses a large part of its support.

As mentioned above, there is an expectation that Erdoğan will call an early National Assembly election if he loses the referendum. It seems likely on current polling that two out of the three opposition parties currently in the National Assembly would fail to meet the electoral thresh hold of 10%. This means the National Action Party, which has split over the referendum, and the Kurdish radicals who have lost some of their more moderate support since the revival of PKK violence. In such a National Assembly, the AKP could certainly put any constitutional proposal to referendum and very possibly could have enough votes to amend the constitution without referendum. So even if Erdoğan loses the election, he could get the same measures, or close enough, through other means.

(Last post in the current series, though I will post an appendix on Ottomanist and Atatürkist legacies in Turkey, along with comments on related political thought.)

Coup and Counter Coup IV The Kurdish issue in Turkey

Previous parts here, here and here. As mentioned in the last post, in the immediate post coup atmosphere President Erdoğan appeared to have the support of some significant part of Kemalist (as in Kemal Atatürk who shaped the Turkish republic with reference to secularism, modernisation, national sovereignty and statism) opinion, the more hard core part, seeing shared enemies in both violent Kurdish separatists and Gülenist (members of a religious community, see previous posts) infiltrators into the state apparatus. The return of PKK (the Kurdish acronym for Workers’ Party of Kurdistan) violence against state forces and civilians (the latter largely undertaken by the Freedom Falcons of Kurdistan, TAK in the Kurdish acronym, a product of the PKK) in the summer of 2015 already placed the AKP, hardcore Kemalists, and the Nationalist Action Party (MHP, rooted in a ‘Grey Wolf’ or ‘Idealist’ ideology of absolutist state nationalism and Pan-Turkism) on the same side advocating a militant response including support for the army-led destruction of whole urban areas in PKK strongholds in the southeast. Previously the latter two groups had regarded the AKP as treasonous for holding talks with Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned founder-leader of the PKK, fearing a federalised Turkey with a southeast federal region under strong PKK influence. The talks were not at all public, no attempt was made to prepare public opinion for possible evolution in the Turkish state tradition, or to hold any kind of open discussion on the issues at stake.

The talks collapsed with Öcalan returned to strict prison conditions. Despite the MHP and hardcore Kemalist fears about federalisation on PKK terms, it seems likely that Erdoğan never intended more than token concessions to Kurdish identity and autonomy for the southeast, in exchange for operating for the PKK and a party with a common origin as an external support of the AKP. The party which has a common origin with the PKK is DBP (Turkish acronym for Democratic Regions Party) and the umbrella party it formed to accommodate small leftist groups (which don’t have specific Kurdish origins). It appears that the DBP hardcore does not like accommodating non-Kurds so the survival of HDP is not guaranteed. It poses a very happy image to leftist educated Turks, of interest in social liberalism, minority rights and left socialist policies. This reflects a historical feeling of marginalisation, because the CHP (Republican People’s Party: Kemalist/social democratic something like the French Socialist Party in merging Jacobin, social democratic and socialist traditions) is seen as too nationalist and not ‘really’ leftwing.

It tells you something about Turkish politics that there are people who insist that HDP is not leftwing despite its obvious leftwing policies and roots in the Maoist orientation of the PKK. This insistence is rooted in the belief that all left polices must be non-ethnic, that raising ethnic issues is inherently divisive and chauvinistic, reflecting of course a blindness to how some people experience the Turkish state as unaccommodating of, and even hostile to, expressions of identity by those people in Turkey who have a first language, and associated culture, other than Turkish. The Maoist and terrorist origins of the main expressions of Kurdish autonomy politics supports that majoritarian blindness and even chauvinism. Clearly they feed off each other.

The HDP has been turned into an effectively semi-legal party since the summer of 2015, which is not the right state reaction from the point of view of constitutional democracy and individual liberty. However, the HDP has to some degree brought this on itself, because while condemning the acts of terror directed from mountains in Iraq by the current PKK leader Cemil Bayık, it has never rejected the PKK as such, treating Öcalan as the symbolic leader of Kurds in Turkey, and adhering to a political rhetoric of ‘autonomy’ shared with the PKK.

The government has now used the state of emergency to take over the administration of all HDP led local government, that is local government throughout the southeast, appointing ‘trustees’ to run these municipalities. All media with an HDP orientation has been closed down and blocked online if based abroad.

Accusations have been made of the HDP using local government as infrastructure and a source of money for the PKK. This has yet to be proven in court. If it was, we would certainly have to consider the HDP to have taken a very bad path. As things stand, this has not been proven and the persecution of HDP politicians along with the takeover of HDP municipalities is highly premature, serving political power goals and grossly overriding any idea that guilt only exists if and when proven in court, preferably with judges under less political pressure than is the case at present in Turkey.

Coup and Counter Coup in Turkey (first of a series of posts on Turkey since 15th July 2016 and background topics)

On July 15th 2016, a group of army officers up to at least the Brigadier General (one star general) level attempted to seize control of the Turkish state. On the morning of the 20th it was evident that the coup had collapsed though the government, along with its allies in the media, social media, think tanks and so on was eager to promote the idea of an unended coup which might spring back into life, like the villain in a horror film, at any moment over a long indefinite period of time. No follow-up coup materialised. The most that can be said for that unending coup mentality was that it is difficult to know how much of the army would have gone over if the coup organisation had captured or killed President Erdoğan. What the never-ending coup claims achieved was to legitimise and mobilise paranoia, intolerance, and authoritarian state reactions with regard to anyone who might be in opposition to the Erdogan/Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.

The overwhelming feeling among government supporters and opponents on the 21st was that the coup was instigated by followers of Fetullah Gülen, a religious leader who went into exile before the AKP came to power in 2002. His followers control an international network of businesses, banks, schools, and media organisations. They carefully targeted the most sensitive areas of state employment in Turkey with the goal of creating a Gülenist dominated state and were aided in this enterprise by the AKP governments who wanted a network to rival the ‘Kemalists’, relatively secular people in the state, business, media, and educational sectors. Their relationship broke down in 2013 for reasons which are inevitably obscure at present, but appear to arise from the conflicting extreme ambitions for absolute power on both sides.

The coup may have been joined by Kemalists and the coup organisers gestured towards this position when a television announcement proclaimed that the coup council name referred to a well-known slogan of Kemal Atatürk, ‘Peace at home, peace in the world’. Kemalism of course refers to the ideology of secularist nationalist republicanism endorsed by Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey. I will return to this topic in a later post, but in brief Kemalism of some kind – and there are many kinds and many grey areas – was the dominant influence in the army and allied parts of the state until recently. It is roughly analogous to the Jacobin tradition in France and in the same way has referred both to popular sovereignty and vanguardism. There are some who promoted the idea in the past that Kemalism was the problem and the AKP was the solution, and they are having difficulty in not seeing the 15th July Coup attempt as at least a Gülenist-Kemalist partnership. However, there is no evidence that Kemalists participated in any more than an individual ad hoc basis. Indeed after the 15th, retired generals associated with Kemalism were called back into service, in a process which now seems to have ended Kemalist sympathy for Erdoğan as a bulwark against the Gülenists and the PKK (socialist-Kurdish autonomy guerrilla/terrorist group), which intensified its activities in the summer of 2015.

Vast waves of arrest began after the coup attempt, which, unlike the coup itself, have not ended. For the first wave of arrests it was just about possible to believe they were genuine attempts to find coup plotters, but it quickly became apparent that the scope of arrests was much wider. President Erdoğan announced soon after the coup attempt that it was a gift of God and showed how he wanted to use this gift on July 20th, when he proclaimed a state of emergency. The state of emergency has become the means for Erdoğan to purge and punish tens of thousands who have no connection with the coup. The AKP supporters who obsessed about the follow-up coup were right, but the follow-up coup came from their own side. The state of emergency is the real coup, though it is also just a moment in the process of the creation of an AKP-Erdoğanist state, designed to facilitate what appears to be Erdoğan’s final goal (though maybe there will be others later): the creation of an extreme version of the presidential political system in which the head of state is more an elected dictator than the head of a system of checks and balances under law. More soon.