By Abdul Ruff
Turkey’s parliament has given preliminary approval to a new constitution which will increase the powers of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The parliament approved the two final sections of the 18-article new constitution 15 January after a marathon week of debating that began on 9 January and included sessions that often lasted late into the night.
The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) mustered the necessary 330 or more votes – a three-fifths majority – needed for the adoption of the constitutional change and sending it to a referendum for final approval. The constitution plan will now go to a second reading in the Ankara parliament expected to start on 18 January where the 18 articles will again be debated one by one.
The proposed changes, which will create an executive presidency for the first time in modern Turkey, are controversial and far-reaching. The president will have the power to appoint and fire ministers, while the post of prime minister will be abolished for the first time in Turkey’s history. Instead, there will a vice president, or possibly several.
The debates have been fractious and last week saw some of the worst fighting seen in the parliament in years with punches thrown, deputies bloodied and one lawmaker even claiming to have been bitten in the leg. To secure its necessary majority, the AKP has relied on the support of the rightwing Nationalist Movement Party, the fourth largest in the legislature.
Critics are quick to claim it amounts to a power grab by President Erdogan. But the president says the changed system will resemble those in France and the United States. The new constitution will allow the president to appoint and dismiss ministers, and it will abolish the post of prime minister for the first time in Turkey’s history. Instead there will be at least one vice-president.
The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) boycotted the vote. Several of their MPs have been jailed on charges of supporting Kurdish militants, which, the HDP says, makes the vote controversial as they have no right to participate.
Debates over the constitution changes have been heated. Last week a fight broke out in parliament after the AKP clashed with Republican’s People Party (CHP) members when an MP tried to film a voting session during a debate. The CHP, the biggest opposition party, opposing the changes, is being used by anti-Islamic forces from the West to try and derail the ruling AKP government’s reforms.
The constitutional amendments will give the president more scope for declaring an emergency. President Erdogan, 62, came to power in 2002, a year after the AKP’s formation. He spent 11 years as Turkey’s prime minister before becoming, in 2014, the country’s first directly-elected president – a supposedly ceremonial role. Not since the days of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the father of the modern Turkish Republic, has any figure dominated the country for as long Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The president’s grip on power was seriously challenged by an attempted coup on 15 July. Yet he was back less than 12 hours later, some say in an even stronger position than before. And he had out-maneuvered the plotters. Turkey has been in a state of emergency since a failed coup in July. The status was extended after a series of attacks on the country, including a mass shooting in an Istanbul nightclub on New Year’s Eve.
As Premier and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has brought Turkey years of economic growth, but to his critics, seeking to destabilize the former Ottoman Empire so that it would appear to be a part of weakened Mideast and deny it the status of being an European nation, he is an autocratic leader intolerant of dissent who harshly silences anyone who opposes him. And dissenters range from plotters and their supporters, a 16-year-old arrested for insulting the president to a former Miss Turkey who got into trouble for sharing a poem critical of the Turkish president.
Last year’s failed coup claimed at least 240 lives and, according to officials, also came close to killing Erdogan, who had been staying at the Aegean holiday resort of Marmaris. Within hours, he appeared on national TV and rallied supporters in Istanbul, declaring he was the “chief commander”. But the strain on the president was clear, when he sobbed openly while giving a speech at the funeral of a close friend, shot with his son by soldiers during the attempted coup.
All ant-Islamic nations seek Turkey to undo Islamist ideology and adopt the system of “open politics” and deformed culture and civilization of the West and the rest. .They say President Erdogan is known to harbour ambitions of creating an executive presidency, to regain some of the powers he relinquished when his tenure as prime minister ended in 2014.
While the ruling AK Party enjoys a fierce and loyal support among Turkey’s conservative, Muslim base, his silencing of critics after the coup has caused alarm in anti-Islamic media abroad. Turkish journalists who oppose the islamist government have been investigated and put on trial, foreign journalists working against the government have been harassed and deported.
Critics have accused Erdogan of using the judiciary to silence political opponents who seek to destabilize the Islamist nation, and there have been many allegations of trumped-up charges. But his supporters applauded President Erdogan for taking on previously untouchable establishment figures that saw themselves as guardians of the state created by Ataturk. Erdogan also unleashed the power of the state to crush mass protests in Istanbul in June 2013, focused on Gezi Park, a green area earmarked for a huge building project. The protests spread to other cities, swelled by many secularist Turks suspicious of the AKP’s Islamist leanings. A major corruption scandal battered his government in December 2013, involving numerous arrests, including the sons of three cabinet ministers. Later it turned out to be an opposition tactic to discredit the ruling party and Erdogan.
And Erdogan’s strong (‘authoritarian’) approach is not confined to Turkey’s borders. A German satirist is under investigation in his home country for offending the Turkish president on TV. In June 2015 the AKP suffered a dip in the polls and failed to form a coalition. But the party swept back to power in November with 49% of the vote, in elections overshadowed by the end of a ceasefire with the Kurdish militant PKK.
Parliamentary elections and presidential ballots will be held simultaneously, with the draft giving 3 November 2019 as the poll date.
Erdogan’s rise to power
Born in 1954, Recep Tayyip Erdogan grew up the son of a coastguard, on Turkey’s Black Sea coast. When he was 13, his father decided to move to Istanbul, hoping to give his five children a better upbringing. As a teenager, the young Erdogan sold lemonade and sesame buns on the streets of Istanbul’s rougher districts to earn extra cash. He attended an Islamic school before obtaining a degree in management from Istanbul’s Marmara University – and playing professional football.
In the decades before the AKP’s rise to power, the military intervened in politics four times to curb Islamist influence. And Recep Tayyip Erdogan has for years embraced Islamist-rooted politics. When he became mayor of Istanbul in 1994 he stood as candidate for the pro-Islamist Welfare Party. He went to jail for four months in 1999 for religious incitement after he publicly read a nationalist poem including the lines: “The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers.”
When he became prime minister in 2002 as head of the AKP, he asserted civilian supremacy over the army. In 2013 he triumphed over the military elite when senior officers were among a large group of people convicted of plotting to overthrow him in what was known as the “Ergenekon” case. Those convictions were later quashed.
Erdogan raged against “plotters” based outside Turkey, condemning supporters of cleric Fethullah Gulen, a former ally turned rival in self-imposed exile in the US. He also lashed out against social media, vowing to “wipe out” Twitter. Erdogan has denied wanting to impose Islamic values, saying he is committed to secularism. But he supports Turks’ right to express their religious beliefs more openly. He opposes efforts to discredit Islam and Islamist government in Europe. Turks love him for what he is and how much he loves his country. That message goes down particularly well in rural and small-town Anatolia – the AKP’s traditional heartland. Some supporters nicknamed him “Sultan” – harking back to the Ottoman Empire.
In October 2013 Turkey lifted rules banning women from wearing headscarves in the country’s state institutions – with the exception of the judiciary, military and police – ending a decades-old restriction. European nations condemn this. Critics also pointed to Erdogan’s failed bid to criminalize adultery, and his attempts to introduce “alcohol-free zones”, as evidence of his alleged Islamist intentions.
Erdogan’s political opponents saw a lavish new presidential palace only as a symbol of his alleged authoritarian tendencies. Perched on a hill on the outskirts of Ankara, the 1,000-room Ak Saray (White Palace) is bigger than the White House or the Kremlin and ended up costing even more than the original £385m ($615m) price tag.
Erdogan owes much of his political success in the past decade to economic stability, with an average annual growth rate of 4.5%. Turkey has developed into a manufacturing and export powerhouse. The AKP government kept inflation under control – no mean feat, as there were years in the 1990s when it soared above 100%. But in 2014 the economy began flagging – growth fell to 2.9% and unemployment rose above 10%.
Turkey has been increasingly playing a positive role as Islamic leader globally. On the international stage President Erdogan has bitterly condemned Israel – previously a strong ally of Turkey – over its ill-treatment of the Palestinians as Zionist policy to eliminate them from Palestine lands. Turkey sent an aidship “Marmara” to breach the Israeli blockades at Gaza strip where Israeli military keeps killing the Palestinians, including children. .Israel pursues expansionist fascist policies to clear the lands for proliferation of illegal settlements in Palestine territories. Both Israel and Egypt cause severe problems for the Gaza Palestinians by maintaining terror blockades around.
Although there is now a rapprochement, the policy not only galvanized his Islamic base, but also made Erdogan a hugely popular leader across the world, particularly in Middle East. He has backed Syria’s opposition in its fight against autocratic Bashar al-Assad’s government in Damascus. He has also supported the freedom struggle of Kashmiris and condemned killings of Kashmiris by occupation forces under Israeli supervision.
Erdogan’s tentative peace overtures to the Kurds in south-eastern Turkey soured when he refused to help Syrian Kurds battling Islamic State militants just across the border.
Turkey, like Saudi Arabia, is a strong candidate for UN veto status, but it has pressed for its so far as the UNSC is not seriously thinking of increasing the strength of veto members on UN.
Veto has harmed genuine interests of many nations like Palestine but fascist nations like Israel have benefited greatly from it.
Erdogan’s important dates
1994-1998 – Mayor of Istanbul, until military officers made power grab
1998 – Welfare Party banned, Erdogan jailed for four months for inciting religious hatred
Aug 2001 – Founds Islamist-rooted AKP (Justice and Development Party) with ally Abdullah Gul
2002-2003 – AKP wins solid majority in parliamentary election, Erdogan appointed prime minister
Aug 2014 – Becomes president after first-ever direct elections for head of state
July 2016 – Survives attempted coup by factions within the military