“Turkish Constitutional Referendum: All you need to know” by CHP European Union Representation, Brussels
The 16 April referendum on a package of some 18 amendments to the current Constitution is about the future of Turkish democracy. What is at stake is the replacement of the current parliamentary system by an all-powerful Presidency.
The ayes claim it will make the regime “more efficient, stream-lined and more responsive to popular will”. They assert that the President – now elected by direct suffrage – must have “commensurate authority”. They declare that the Presidential system is “the answer to all the problems and challenges the country is facing at home and abroad”.
The stark reality is quite to the contrary. A “yes” vote on 16 April will have the following consequences:
It will mean the end of the separation of powers, of checks and balances because both the legislative and the judiciary branches of government will come under the control of the President.
The President, not the elected Parliament, will be making laws by issuing executive orders.
The President, not the elected Parliament, will prepare and execute the national budget – with no accountability.
The President will be able to dissolve the Parliament – at will.
The President will have the power to appoint judges to the Constitutional Court and other high judiciary bodies.
The President retains political party identity, making the Presidency a partisan institution; this contravenes Article 101 of the present Constitution that is not affected by the proposed amendments and that calls for a bi-partisan President.
The Vice-Presidents and Ministers appointed by the President will answer not to the Parliament or to the people, but only to the President.
In short, the referendum will be a choice between a parliamentary democracy and one-man rule, between saying goodbye to democracy in all its surviving manifestations and giving Turkey another chance to reclaim its secular democracy. A “yes” vote will mean Turkey’s further estrangement from the Euro-Atlantic community and the EU. A “no” vote would give the democratic, secular and liberal forces the opportunity again to turn Turkey into a progressive, forward-looking country. Whether “yes” or “no”, 16 April will be a turning point for Turkey. The people of Turkey will say “no” and choose to go forward.
Please download our publication “Turkish Constitutional Referendum: All you need to know” for detailed analysis of the current situation, full unofficial translation of the proposed changes article by article, latest poll results, CHP Leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu’s statement ahead of referendum and unfair campaign conditions, NO campaign by photos and more.
CHP Representative to the European Union
Party of European Socialists & Democrats (PES) Presidency Council Member
Please download “Turkish Constitutional Referendum: All you need to know” in pdf format.
By Dan Katz (this piece also appears on the Workers Liberty website)
The plotters declared that they were acting, “to restore the constitutional order, human rights and freedoms, the rule of law, and public order.”
However the coup had insufficient support inside the armed forces and almost all the top leadership sided with the state against the rebellion, calling for troops to return to barracks. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in power since 2002, managed to rally his supporters in the police and intelligence services. Mass opposition to the coup amongst the general public included many who were not supporters of Erdogan. Thousands came to onto the streets.
Erdogan has purged the army, jailed many generals and strengthened the police as a counterweight. It was assumed that the army was no longer an alternative political centre – and indeed this failed coup is a sign of weakness, not strength.
Members of parliament met in the damaged parliament in an act of defiance.
By Saturday footage was emerging of disarmed soldiers being attacked by civilian supporters of the President. Apparently 265 people died during the coup attempt.
It is a good thing the coup has failed. The Turkish military has a long and brutal record of political intervention, including a violent overthrow in 1980 during which many leftists were killed or arrested and working class organisations were repressed. Four governments have been overthrown by the Turkish military in the past 50 years.
It is unfortunate, however, that the immediate political beneficiary is President Erdogan, the autocratic leader of the Islamist Turkish government.
Erdogan has had 2839 soldiers arrested and sacked 2745 judges. Warrants have been issued for the arrest of 140 Supreme Court members. At least one top officer, General Erdal Ozturk, commander of the Third Army, has been detained.
Erdogan has accused a former political ally, Fethullah Gulen, of being behind the coup. Gulen is currently in exile in the US and Erdogan is loudly demanding his extradition. Gulen condemned the coup.
A Turkish official has also accused the US of involvement. John Kerry has denied the claim and warned Turkey to respect the rule of law when pursuing those involved in the coup.
Under cover of prosecuting the coup plotters no doubt Erdogan will settle scores with others, and tighten his grip on political life.
Turkey is increasingly polarised. The ruling party has been rocked by corruption scandals, the war in Syria and an enormous refugee crisis. Erdogan is now back at war with the PKK, the Kurdish separatist movement who had been on ceasefire for two years. Many of the towns and villages in the Kurdish south east are under military occupation and some have been partly destroyed during fierce fighting.
The Turkish state faces a military threat from the PKK and also bomb attacks by Islamic State.
Many young people in the cities dislike the social conventions of the Islamists in power. And Erdogan has ruthlessly pursued his critics in the media – jailing some journalists, and intimidating many more. The main independent newspapers and television stations have been taken over. Prosecutors have opened 2000 cases against people suspected of insulting the president since 2014.
Well, no more Mr Smoothie Guy then. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has within the past few hours walked out of the World Economic Forum in disgust, because of having been denied the same amount of time as was given to his Israeli counterpart, President Shimon Peres, when addressing the assembled audience on the subject of the recent Israeli attacks on Gaza. Quoting Gilad Atzmon and Avi Shlaim, he walked away claiming that he will not be returning.
Erdoğan offers his own explanation in this press conference footage, as televised by Turkish news station TRT 2. Amongst other things he expressly denies any enmity towards “the Israeli people”, and also says “I am a Prime Minister, a leader, who has specifically stated that anti-Semitism is a crime against humanity”.
The BBC’s initial report on the incident can be found here.
I am not a fan of Erdoğan’s, nor indeed of his Adalet ve Kalkınma (Justice and Development) Party. They are a movement of religious-political roots, and it is difficult to deny that they continue to carry at least some of that legacy, albeit by no means in the same way as openly theocratic groups do. What is more, his willingness to quote from Atzmon does raise questions, albeit that he is not necessarily likely to be aware of the man’s highly dubious political pedigree. Nevertheless it is a highly unusual spectacle to see a national leader who is prepared to break diplomatic precedent in such spectacular style. Erdoğan left to a partial standing ovation.
What this does show is just how damaging the Gaza conflict may prove to have been, to relations between Israel and other nations in the Middle East region. Turkey has historically stood aside from Arab-Israeli hostilities and maintained relatively good relations with Jerusalem. Erdoğan himself had been trying to foster talks between Israel and Syria, with a view to ending a conflict which has festered enen since before the former’s inception in 1948. Indeed, far from being a redoubt of stereotypical anti-Western religious fanatics, Turkey is also a nation with (fading) hopes of joining the EU, which would make it the first majority-Muslim member state. This, indeed, in spite of a number of backward and bigoted responses from prominent EU figures. It is also a NATO partner, and a regional superpower with more than half a million men under arms.
It is one thing to foment conflicts with nations whom one’s allies see as pariah states, such as Iran. It is quite another to offend one of your few friends in the Middle East. This argument may eventually be smoothed over, but it marks the beginning of a realignment. Israeli politicians should take note: one fit of pique on a platform speaks volumes. The days of carte blanche from “friends of Israel” are well and truly over.
In a stunning reversal of every historical precedent, Turkey’s constitutional court has rejected a motion to ban the ruling AK Parti. More later, but for now let it suffice to say that I think this is a marvellous result for democratic politics in Turkey, which should be celebrated by all progressives and socialists. Let us hope that the forthcoming verdict on the left-wing DT Parti goes the same way.
Most of the media coverage since Sunday’s bombings in Istanbul (which killed some 16 people) has been dominated by speculation that either the Kurdish nationalist PKK or one of the Islamic terrorist groups active in Turkey may have been responsible. Given that the knee-jerk reaction of Kemalist nationalists is to blame the PKK for everything of this kind, and that other reactionaries of a more Western flavour have a tendency to cry “Islamic Terrorism”, it was inevitable that these two groups would be flagged up as suspects. Indeed, neither would I discount either possibility, for all the predictability of the sourced that have raised them. However, in the course of yesterday another intriguing possibility was raised.
Bulent Kenes, writing on Comment is Free, suggests that the shadowy ultra-nationalist Ergenekon network, which is currently involved in a fight to the death with the ruling Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi, may have had a role in the bombings. He points out that the 2,455 page document indicting Ergenekon points out the organisation’s links not only with the PKK, but also with the “leftist” Mahir Cayan cultists of the DHKP-C, and also with Islamist terror organisations such as Turkish Hezbollah (as an aside, not linked to the Lebanese organisation of the same name). In the context of the current trials, both literal and of strength, between Ergenekon and the AKP, the ultra-nationalists would certainly be helped by a convenient extremist attack in Turkey’s largest city.
If this all seems implausible then I would ask you to bear in mind two things. Firstly, it has been done before, as demonstrated by various governments’ sponsorship of terror groups worldwide for all sorts of reasons. Early Israeli support for Hamas in an effort to break the PLO would make a very clear comparison with what Kenes and others suggest Ergekon is trying to do here. Secondly, Turkey is a country which almost (but not quite) forms an “exception that proves the rule” about grand conspiracies. There is a highly politicised “Deep State” in Turkey; this is both widely documented and commonly accepted. Ergenekon is a current, public manifestation of that long standing phenomenon. Indeed the only surprises or suspicions for me are the links raised in the Ergenekon document between said shadowy ultra-nationalists and groups such as the DHKP-C. For all that the latter group are self-flagellating cultists (their speciality is having their own members starve themselves to death en masse in Turkish jails, with no obvious demand other than “the revolution” or some such), their political record of written attacks on the “contra-guerilla” structures of the Deep State has been totally consistent. Also, there is something about the Ergenekon document that seems remarkably convenient in that it lumps together quite literally all of the AK Parti’s most fierce traditional enemies into one big, eradicable mass. Yet for all that suspicion, the notion that Ergenekon was behind Sunday’s attacks remains far from implausible.
In conclusion, what to make of this theory? I am frankly not sure. However what I do believe is that Sunday’s attacks were far too conveniently timed to be unconnected to the current constitutional battle within Turkey. Whether an extremist group acted alone or was backed by one of the protagonists, the attacks can only have helped Ergenekon’s members and harmed the legitimately elected AK Parti government. As a consequence it remains an open question whether the stories circulating about Ergenekon’s involvement are based in truth or in spin fed by AKP supporters to credulous journalists who would believe anything of the Deep State. It is to be hoped at the very least that the deaths of so many innocents in Istanbul will not be forgotten in the course of Turkey’s struggle towards the sort of democratic politics and civil freedoms that those of us in “the west” take for granted.
An interesting turn of events has recently happened in Turkey, where for months now the Constitional Court has been processing a case driven by hard-line nationalists for the closure of the ruling AK Parti and the banning of its leaders (including President Gül and Prime Minister Erdoğan) from political participation for five years. For those who may not know, it bears repeating that the AK Parti is a nominally Islamist reincarnation of the old (actually Islamist) Refah Parti which was led by veteran Turkish political-religionist Necmettin Erbakan. More to the point, it is the twice democratically elected government of Turkey, the last time by an overwhelming margin of the sort that would make Gordon Brown weep with envy. Having failed to defeat AK at the polls, the nationalist movement has sought recourse via the courts, also threatening to close the Kurdish dominated, leftist Demokratik Toplum Parti which did unexpectedly well at the last general elections. Of course, if this was Robert Mugabe we all know what western political parties would be saying, but coincidentally they’re strangely silent when it comes to a NATO member and strategic ally.
So that gives the background to the court case. Basically if it can be “proven” that the AK Parti actually has a political-Islamist agenda which runs contrary to the country’s Kemalist constitution or the colloquial litmus test of “Turkishness”, then in all likelihood the governing party will be shut down. Which, ironically, would be the first case of the west falling silent whilst a liberal, pro-EU Islamist party was replaced in a coup by a pro-Syria, pro-Iran, hard-right wing secularist opposition. There again, by the same coin it wouldn’t be the first time the army had revoked an election whose results it disapproved of, but it just might be the first time that the people would publicly disagree en masse with the coup.
Yet it would seem there’s a fly in the nationalists’ ointment. For many years now, stories have periodically surfaced about a political-military “deep state”, a shadowy ultra-nationalist network trying to orchestrate the course of Turkish political history from behind the scenes. Notably this network hit the mainstream media for a time following the 1996 Susurluk incident when evidence recovered from a car crash revealed clear connections between the right wing of Turkish nationalism and organised crime. Now it raises its head again in the shape of “Ergenekon”, a network dedicated to creating the conditions whereby the AK government would be so undermined that the army could remove it from office on the back of a wave of popular support. This would be backed up by assassinations of key liberal figures and usher in a new era of right-wing “Grey Wolf” style nationalism, forever changing the face of Turkish politics and that of the Anatolian region as a whole.
However, Ergenekon hit a stumbling block when its plans came to light, and now a massive counter-terrorism operation is in the process of detaining its leading figures, including former generals, far-right politicians – and lawyers. The use of the courts to stamp out oppostion was part of Ergenekon’s strategy, and the current AK case is only the latest of these. The arrest and trial of prominent liberals such as Orhan Pamuk (for acknowledging the 1917 Armenian Genocide) are previous examples of operations run by the shadowy network’s legal arm.
As a consequence of the raids, the government suddenly finds itself far less beleagured. The mainstream Kemalist opposition CHP finds itself with questions to answer as to whether any of its own leaders were aware of Ergenekon, and the far-right MHP emerges looking like the shabby bunch of fascists that it always was. An additional preceived moral authority is thus imparted to the AK Parti, making it far more difficult for a “conviction” to be fabricated.
What is interesting, is that it is highly unlikely Ergenekon could have been blown up so spectacularly without the consent of at least a section of the military establishment. It is possible that officers supportive of the (historically) left-nationalist CHP, whilst hostile to Erdoğan, were not prepared to stomach a far-right led coup, and therefore tacitly agreed to the raids going ahead. If that is the case then it can only be good news for democracy in Turkey.
From the perspective of left wing, progressive politics it is clear that neither faction is composed of our political friends. The idea of supporting a far-right takeover is so obviously ludicrous as not to deserve discussion. Also, the AK Parti is not in an of itself a progressive force. Whilst it has liberalised laws in parts of the country – in particular during Erdoğan’s first government, towards the Kurds – it has also shown itself to have a neoliberal economic agenda coupled with social policies that do on occasion verge on political-religious. I personally am far from convinced that Gül, in particular, has broken with his past as completely as his public persona would suggest, and it would be worth remembering that even Erdoğan has a relatively recent conviction (1998, served 4 months in jail) for incitement to religious hatred. Nevertheless the AK government was legitimately elected, and as such the left in the UK should support the will of the Turkish people in opposing the closure of the ruling party in any way that we can. Aside from anything else, stopping the closure might well set a liberalising precedent in which a genuine, pluralist left could thrive.
Furthermore the unveiling of Ergenekon merely goes to show what it at stake in Turkey. The one thing that unites the left is opposition to fascism, and this is an attempted fascist coup at its most raw. Let us hope that progressives in Turkey and across the world see it that way and prepare to fight.
Within the past four days, following a lengthy campaign of aerial bombings, a Turkish ground invasion of Iraqi Kurdistan has begun. 10,000 troops in total rolled across the border on Thursday night, according to the Turkish Daily News. This was on the pretext of hunting members of the PKK who live in camps around the mountainous north of the region. As the troops (whose numbers have been massing on the Iraqi border for months) went into Iraqi Kurdish territory at around 7 pm, the Turkish army’s general staff issued a statement which said:
“The Turkish Armed Forces, which attach great importance to Iraq’s territorial integrity and stability, will return home in the shortest time possible after its goals have been achieved”
Whether this is to be believed or not remains to be seen. Indeed, if the “achievement of its goals” is the elimination of the PKK “threat” then even taken at face value the statement is cold comfort for the Kurds – previous failed attempts by the Turkish army to eradicate Kurdish nationalism resulted in a bloody and drawn-out conflict between 1984 and 1999 which is reckoned to have claimed over 30,000 lives.
This is not a case of the military launching an operation in defiance of a civilian government, either. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s AK Party government in fact ordered the attack, it is believed with the tacit support of the USA – in spite of some muted protests. The US will certainly be loathe to enter a direct confrontation with a NATO partner, particuarly a regional superpower of Turkey’s standing in a part of the world where the USA is not overwhelmed by huge numbers of Muslim friends.
The Kurdistan Regional Government, headed by Kurdistan Democratic Party leader Masud Barzani, has issued a statement condemning the invasion whilst making clear that it does not support the PKK. For the time being this will suit the Turkish troops, whose lives wouldbe made considerably more difficult if Barzani were to order the mainstream Peshmerga in the region to fire on the invaders. It is, however, quite clear that the Peshmerga’s neutrality in the conflict is far from guaranteed in the longer term.
The conflict has escalated within the last 24 hours, with the Turkish army claiming to have killed 44 rebels and the PKK responding with a claim to have shot down a Turkish helicpter. The death toll will undoubtedly continue to mount over the days and weeks to come, almost certainly without any “clean” outcome one way or the other. Conventional ground forces have found since time immemorial that they can hold an area, only for it to be reoccupied by guerillas once they leave. The PKK may not have the forces to drive the Turkish forces out, but neither do the Turkish army have the means to eradicate the PKK. The result will be a bloody mess.
In a situation like this, progressive and left-wing people worldwide should stand with the people of Kurdistan whose territory is being overrun by invading troops. We should condemn any civilian deaths that the Turkish troops inflict, and we should call for those troops to be withdrawn. The Kurdish people have the right to their own territorial integrity, and the language being used by the Turkish government to justify the invasion (“terrorists” in particular) is eerily remniscent of the language used by US administration to justify the war in Iraq. We on the left stand with oppressed peoples, against such aggressors and we support the right tonational self-determination. It is for that reason and with those principles in mind that I believe we should be calling for Turkish troops out of Kurdistan.
In a stunning victory for secularism and pluralism over the colonial-model state direction that has characterised social policy in the past, the AK Partisi majority in the Turkish parliament has voted to liberalise the law regarding the wearing of the headscarf in universities. The law, which amends the Turkish constitution in altering the state’s stance on the headscarf, will be signed by President Abdullah Gul and students will then have the right if they so choose to wear the headscarf whilst they study and move around campus.
One can imagine the responses to this, and apparently today we are now facing the spectacle of the nominally left-of-centre opposition Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi and Demokratik Sol Partisi, lining up to organise protests. The CHP also intends to take the law to the Supreme Court of Appeals, whose new head has revealed attitudes which may indicate that he would look kindly on such an action.
It is also of note that the leftish, pro-Kurdish nationalist Demokratik Toplum Partisi actually gave some support to the AK government in the vote, thus scotching the notion that this was a case of an Islamic government simply steamrolling a secular opposition. The ultranationalist, far-right Milliyet Hareket Partisi (presumably for reasons of its own) also supported the AK government in the vote.
Personally, I think that the new law is a good thing. It is a common misconception on the left, one perpetuated by both sides in many of our debates about religion and law, that secularism equates with state-enforced bans on religious expression. In fact that is not what the term means and it never has done so. Secularism merely refers to equality of treatment under the law for those of all religions and none, and to non-religious control of the state. There is, therefore, no threat at all posed to secularism by a 21 year old woman wearing a headscarf whilst she attends lectures at the University of Istanbul. Rather, it is a welcome expression of those very freedoms that those of us who do call ourselves secularists on the basis of a proper understanding of the concept, hold so dear. For that reason I for one am pleased to see that a law has been passed which facilitates those freedoms, and I hope that others on the left will see the change in the same light.
You probably didn’t know about this: it hasn’t been a prominent issue in the Left press, and hasn’t gotten much coverage in the mainstream papers either. But for those of you who didn’t know, the Turkish airforce has been bombing Kurdistan for the past two days. Remarkable that nothing much has been said about it by the “left” (one can only imagine what would be said if the jets were flying from Israel rather than Turkey), but there we have it. I’m highlighting the issue for you now anyway.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkish Prime Minister and leader of the Islamic AK party, has simply kept asserting Turkey’s right to attack the left-nationalist PKK guerillas (who are based in Iraqi Kurdistan) as it sees fit:
“We, without enmity, use our right stemming from international law”
Meanwhile, there have been protests both from the Demokratik Toplum Partisi opposition in the Turkish parliament, and from Kurdistan Democratic Party leader and Iraqi Kurdistan autonomous regional President Masud Barzani. DTP Istanbul leader Halil Aksoy has condemned the USA for backing the Turkish military incursions:
“You [the U.S.] have opposed millions of people and taken a hostile attitude against them”
Again, the left’s silence on the Kurdistan issue is palpable. Why is it that people who will go charging into political battle behind so many groups in that region, will not do so for one of the most significant stateless nations in the world – even when it finds itself under attack from a regional superpower and NATO member?
If there is one salutory lesson we should take into the new year it is that we as the left are supposed to oppose all oppression – whether the oppressed concerned are of political convenience to us or not. The Kurds’ story tells us that we are not always as good or as consistent as we ought to be. It’s time we changed that.
Update 27/12/07 – Mizgin also has a great post on a similar subject
The people have spoken. Yesterday’s general elections in Turkey were nothing if not decisive. Not only did Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s mildly Islamist Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi increase its vote by almost 13% on the previous general election, taking more than 46% – a margin unheard of since the days of iconic 1980s Turkish leader Turgut Ozal. More significant than that, the new parliament will contain over 20 representatives from the Demokratik Toplum Partisi, the left-nationalist Kurdish grouping that dominates politics in the south-east of the country. The former leader of the leftist Özgürlük ve Dayanısma Partisi, Ufuk Uras, was also elected on the DTP slate. The ability of Ahmet Türk’s party to beat off its previous excluded status (due to Turkey’s electoral system, which requires all parties to gain 10% of the vote to enter parliament even if they dominate a particular region, as the DTP does) came from its tactical decision to run all of its candidates as independents, and have them coalesce under a partisan banner only when they physically enter parliament. What is remarkable about the thawing of Turkish politics under the AKP, is that this appears at this stage to have been more or less universally accepted in political circles.
The fascist Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi re-entered parliament on the back of a coalescing of the hard nationalist vote, but was held to third place and in reality saw its vote increase by less than 9%. After running a campaign overly focussed on Erdogan’s (and Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul’s) wife’s choice of headwear, the main opposition Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi took slightly below 20% of the vote, and will enter parliament in second place. Its useless, burned out and right-wing leader, Deniz Baykal, seems safe for now.
These elections marked a rejection of the ultra-nationalist surge which has recently enveloped the country, manifesting in its most extreme forms as the arrest of liberals such as Orhan Pamuk and the politically-motivated murder of figures such as Hrant Dink. Whilst the MHP did re-enter parliament, there was no tidal wave for the “Grey Wolves”, who could not even surpass the lacklustre CHP to become the main opposition. The new parliament will contain more leftish voices than any in decades, and will be dominated by the force that has liberalised relations within the Kurdish regions.
The result also also marks a rejection of the army as a force in politics, particularly given the bellicose noises made in recent months by Chief of General Staff Yaşar Büyükanıt. This can only be a good thing from the perspective of any democrat.
It is to be hoped that this will be a wake-up call to progressives and people on the left outside of Turkey, who now have in the DTP a genuinely liberationist force in national politics to which they can relate, as well as one which has a significant left wing of its own. In Turkey the usual choice posed by so many western “anti-imperialists”, whether to side with “pro-Western” governments or reactionary oppositions, does not apply. There is a political choice to be made here, and I hope for once that the left steps up to the plate.