Ten­sions flar­ing over vote on new Er­do­gan pow­ers

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

Turkey is head­ing to a ref­er­en­dum on grant­ing Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan new pow­ers as early as next spring, ratch­et­ing up ten­sions amid a crack­down on dis­sent and pro-Kurdish politi­cians, an­a­lysts say. The courts have ar­rested over 35,000 peo­ple un­der a state of emer­gency im­posed in the wake of the failed July 15 coup aimed at un­seat­ing Er­do­gan whose de­feat the au­thor­i­ties see as a tri­umph of Turk­ish democ­racy.

But with 10 MPs from the main Kurdish party and the same num­ber from the op­po­si­tion Cumhuriyet daily im­pris­oned this month, crit­ics say the fo­cus of the crack­down has gone well be­yond al­leged sup­port­ers of the US-based cleric Fethul­lah Gulen whom Turkey blames for the plot. The prime po­lit­i­cal con­cern of Er­do­gan fol­low­ing the fail­ure of the coup has been win­ning sup­port to change the ex­ist­ing con­sti­tu­tion to cre­ate a pres­i­den­tial sys­tem.

Govern­ment of­fi­cials ar­gue a fully pres­i­den­tial sys­tem is needed to le­galise what has be­come a de-facto sit­u­a­tion, with Er­do­gan now Turkey’s undis­puted num­ber one af­ter trans­form­ing the of­fice of head of state. To ob­tain the par­lia­men­tary su­per-ma­jor­ity re­quired to call a ref­er­en­dum, Er­do­gan needs the sup­port of MPs from the ul­tra-na­tion­al­ist Na­tion­al­ist Move­ment Party (MHP) of Devlet Bahceli which strongly ap­proves of a crack­down against the pro-Kurdish and left­ist op­po­si­tion.

‘Faster De­vel­op­ment’

Soner Ca­gap­tay, di­rec­tor of the Turkey Pro­gram at the Wash­ing­ton In­sti­tute for Near East Pol­icy, told AFP that talks with the MHP were push­ing Er­do­gan to be “very tough” on the main Kurdish po­lit­i­cal party as well as the out­lawed Kur­dis­tan Work­ers Party (PKK). “For the next six months we can ex­pect to see a strong­man, rightwing and na­tion­al­ist pro­gram from Er­do­gan,” he told AFP. He said the changes would mean “he would be crowned head of state, head of govern­ment and head of the rul­ing party”.

Ab­dulka­dir Selvi, a well-con­nected pro-Er­do­gan colum­nist at the Hur­riyet daily, wrote that the the cur­rent plan was to hold a ref­er­en­dum in April or May on the changes, which would also in­clude nam­ing a vice pres­i­dent, and hold­ing par­lia­men­tary and pres­i­den­tial elec­tions si­mul­ta­ne­ously. Er­do­gan ar­gued Fri­day that a pres­i­den­tial sys­tem - which the au­thor­i­ties say would be sim­i­lar to that in France or the United States - “will give Turkey the chance for faster de­vel­op­ment”.

‘Main Ob­sta­cle’

But the pro-Kurdish Peo­ples’ Demo­cratic Party (HDP) which af­ter a break­through in 2015 polls is the third largest party in par­lia­ment ahead of the MHP - claim it has been tar­geted for dar­ing to op­pose a pres­i­den­tial sys­tem. The HDP’s charis­matic co-leader, Se­la­hat­tin Demir­tas, now jailed, made it a per­sonal cru­sade to block the pro­posed changes. “We stopped him (Er­do­gan) on the way to a pres­i­den­tial sys­tem,” said party deputy leader Hisyar Oz­soy. “For them the HDP is the main ob­sta­cle and should be elim­i­nated.”

The Turk­ish govern­ment in­sists that the HDP failed to dis­tance it­self from the PKK and its at­tacks on Turk­ish se­cu­rity forces, and that the party has acted as a po­lit­i­cal front of the group. In­ter­na­tional Cri­sis Group an­a­lyst Berkay Mandiraci said the PKK had es­ca­lated its ac­tions af­ter the coup while Ankara had in­ten­si­fied mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions and ad­vanced a “do­mes­tic crack­down” against al­leged PKK sup­port­ers. According to an ICG toll, at least 2,301 peo­ple have died in the PKK con­flict since July 2015. “The coun­try­wide po­lit­i­cal back­drop sug­gests a trend to­wards even more de­ter­mined state poli­cies,” Mandiraci said.

‘Hawk­ish Stance’

The round-ups have in­ten­si­fied Turkey’s rift with the Euro­pean Union, whose lat­est ac­ces­sion progress re­port was its most crit­i­cal yet. The EU is also alarmed by the resur­gence of the de­bate in Turkey on nul­li­fy­ing its abo­li­tion of the death penalty, whose pro­hi­bi­tion is a con­di­tion for mem­ber­ship. Er­do­gan was one of a hand­ful of world lead­ers to re­ceive a phone call from Don­ald Trump af­ter his US elec­tion vic­tory. Ankara is hop­ing for an eas­ier ride from Trump than it got from the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Marc Pierini, vis­it­ing scholar at Carnegie Europe, said it may be “tempt­ing” to con­sider the Trump pres­i­dency as a boost for Ankara and to ex­pect him to be “less keen on fo­cus­ing on rights and val­ues in Turkey”. But he cau­tioned: “Only when he be­comes pres­i­dent will we know what Don­ald Trump’s in­ten­tions are in the for­eign pol­icy field and on Turkey.”

With the Turk­ish econ­omy pos­si­bly con­tract­ing in the third quar­ter and the lira los­ing al­most six per­cent against the dol­lar in the last month, the ten­sions could also hurt the econ­omy. “We think the hawk­ish stance is likely to be main­tained, if not in­ten­si­fied fur­ther, to sus­tain this sup­port through the ref­er­en­dum,” said Gokce Ce­lik, chief economist at QNB Fi­nans­bank, warn­ing this back­ground might “af­fect the mar­ket sen­ti­ment neg­a­tively”.

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