Turkey’s Distorted Priorities

May 16, 2016

Turkey must have become world’s number one country for its failure to properly determine national priorities. We have witnessed a series of terrorist acts causing great loss of life. Widescale military operations are continuing against the PKK with rising casualty figures. We have three million unhappy Syrian refugees. The future of the “refugee/visa deal” in which the government has invested a huge amount of political capital looks uncertain. Thanks to our grand strategy to redesign the Middle East, ISIL and al-Nusra are now our neighbors. Turkish foreign policy has lost direction. Our economy is facing serious problems some of which are directly related to foreign policy mistakes. We are facing internal and external security challenges. A state of lawlessness is gripping the country. And, last but not least, we are dangerously polarized reflecting a deeper national identity problem.

However, the top item on our national agenda is the issue of “political transition” (not the Syrian one, this is ours) from the parliamentary system to a presidential system alla turca. In Turkey de facto and de jure are now vague terms. We presently have a de jure parliamentary system but a de facto presidential system. It now seems that our de facto presidential system is going to be carved in stone and whatever constitutional inconsistencies which exist are thus going to be eliminated. This is the plan. In other words, we are no longer to have a real prime minister but a “low profile prime minister” or the shadow of a prime minister. Our low profile prime minister, once named, will be elected by the ruling Justice and Development Party (JDP) congress, in all likelihood with 100 % of the votes cast. But, in his acceptance speech, he would have to display modesty and refrain from announcing an ambitious political, economic, social and foreign policy program. Because, his domain will be restricted to mini plans and projects. “State of the country”, and “wild projects” as the mega ones are now called, will be beyond his reach. In a country where prime ministers are used delivering at least one, sometimes two or more major policy speeches a day, the new prime minister will distinguish himself with his thoughtful silence. It is worth noting in this connection that “speech is silver, silence is golden”, though seldom remembered, is a Turkish proverb. His biggest challenge will be learning to deal with boredom in a country where “there is never a dull moment” as foreigners say. He will thus learn to sympathize with those whose freedom of expression was restricted while his predecessor was busy lecturing cheering party crowds.

How the international status to be enjoyed by our low profile prime minister would develop will also be interesting to see.

Advocates of the proposed presidential system are more or less saying that Turkey’s current problems are solely the result of the shortcomings of parliamentary system. Thus, they are conveniently avoiding their underlying errors of judgement and defying the evolution of democratic theory. Unfortunately, Turkey has failed to set “an example to follow” for Middle East countries. With its intended constitutional changes, it may accomplish just the opposite. After all, one reads more articles about democracy’s decline these days than at any other time since the Second World War.


About Ali Tuygan

Ali Tuygan is a graduate of the Faculty of Political Sciences of Ankara University. He joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in January 1967. Between various positions in Ankara, he served at the Turkish Embassy in Brussels, NATO International Staff, Turkish Embassies in Washington and Baghdad, and the Turkish Delegation to NATO. From 1986 to 1989 he was the Principal Private Secretary to the President of the Republic. He then served as ambassador to Ottawa, Riyadh, and Athens. In 1997 he was honored with a decoration by the Italian President. Between these assignments abroad he served twice as Deputy Undersecretary for Political Affairs. In 2004 he was appointed Undersecretary where he remained until the end of 2006 before going to his last foreign assignment as Ambassador to UNESCO. He retired in 2009. In April 2013 he published a book entitled “Gönüllü Diplomat, Dışişlerinde Kırk Yıl” (“Diplomat by Choice, Forty Years in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs”) in which he elaborated on the diplomatic profession and the main issues on the global agenda. He has published articles in Turkish periodicals and newspapers.
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