Turkey’s Political Mucilage

June 28, 2021 Canal İstanbul, called “a crazy project” by ruling Justice and Development Party (JDP) government remains high on our agenda. We are a divided, polarized nation but not on this issue. The large majority of Turks object to the project because they do not see the logic of it. They object to it because its economic, environmental, foreign and security policy consequences are more than likely to prove disastrous.

But the government appears determined to go ahead regardless.

A second problem is marine mucilage along large areas of the Sea of Marmara, which connects the Black Sea to the Aegean. As I gather from the media, mucilage which is part of a natural process under normal conditions, can expand excessively when the weather gets warmer in the spring months and it finds the right temperature and light. However, in the case of the Sea of Marmara, experts say that the structure of the sea, as well as intense pollution and waste, and global climate change are the main reasons behind such intense mucilage formation.

A third problem is political mucilage. In recent months, allegations of corruption, nepotism, cronyism, bribery, shadowy links extending from money laundering to drug trafficking have become top agenda items. Many can see that there is something wrong but putting all the pieces together like in a jigsaw puzzle is next to impossible. The government says that it will pay no heed to such empty talk and continue building the “New Turkey” no matter what.

Underlying the foregoing is our democratic and institutional decline.

Article 7 of our Constitution says, “Legislative power is vested in the Grand National Assembly of Turkey on behalf of Turkish Nation. This power shall not be delegated.”

Article 8 (As amended on April 16, 2017; Act No. 6771) says, “Executive power and function shall be exercised and carried out by the President of the Republic in conformity with the Constitution and laws”.

Article 9 (As amended on April 16, 2017; Act No. 6771) says, “Judicial power shall be exercised by independent and impartial courts on behalf of the Turkish Nation.”[i]

Sadly, the foregoing now remains on paper only. In parliament, the JDP and its junior partner Nationalist Movement Party (NMP) never allow for any meaningful debate or legislative action even on matters of vital importance to the country. Questions addressed to the government remain mostly unanswered. Attendance to sessions is low. Motions of censure are rejected offhand, never a “yes” vote among the JDP and NMP ranks, sadly reminding me of John F. Kennedy’s book “Profiles in Courage”. Executive power overwhelms legislative power. As for the independence of the judiciary, Bernard Lewis had said that in traditional Islamic culture the converse of tyranny was justice, not liberty. I wonder where that puts today’s “New Turkey”.

In the meantime, we continue to face multiple foreign and security policy challenges extending from Syria, eastern Mediterranean to Libya. Our relations with the US are at an all-time low. Yes, Presidents Biden and Erdogan met on the margins of the NATO summit but nobody knows what they discussed or agreed to other than their having a “good meeting”. Our relations with the EU are no different. Now, they see us only a paid barrier to new waves of migrants reaching their shores. Our relations with Moscow appear uncertain. We do not know what the election of a hardliner Iranian President would entail not only for the JCPOA but also the broad region. All we know is that we are diplomatically isolated.

Lately, we seem to have volunteered to remain in Afghanistan after the “withdrawal”.

On April 14, President Biden announced that US troops as well as forces deployed by America’s NATO Allies and operational partners will be out of Afghanistan before the 20th anniversary of 9/11. The plan he said, had long been “in together, out together.” Does our readiness to remain at the Hamid Karzai Airport mean that we were an ally/partner in the “in together” phase of the allied operations in Afghanistan but not an ally/partner in the “out together” phase of this failed endeavor? Could it be that we are no longer an ally or partner? Or is this a scheme to win favor with the Biden White House, a price we are prepared to pay for “some understanding” on other issues?

Last Thursday, The New York Times reported the following:

“More than 18,000 Afghans who have worked as interpreters, drivers, engineers, security guards, fixers and embassy clerks for the United States during the war have been trapped in bureaucratic limbo after applying for special immigrant visas, available to people who face threats because of work for the U.S. government.

“Those applicants have 53,000 family members, officials said…

“… Officials said the Afghans would be moved out of Afghanistan to third countries to await the processing of their visa requests to move to the United States. The officials declined to say where the Afghans would wait, and it is not clear whether third countries have agreed to take them. The opportunity to move will be given to people who have already begun the application process.”

Since those Afghans applying for US visas would have to adopt to a new/American way of life, can one assume that the UK, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand would be the countries where they would wait? Or are there other plans?

As for Turkey’s opposition parties, they remain engaged in daily attacks on the government, particularly allegations of corruption. Opposition leaders indulge in weekly remarks to their party groups to the applause of their colleagues but they hardly get any coverage in the media, now mostly toeing the government line. And they seem to enjoy what has now become routine visits to small businesses suffering from Turkey’s steep economic decline aggravated by the pandemic.

While fully appreciating the difficulties faced by the opposition, I believe that they should not allow this routine to turn them into a supposition. What they need is moving beyond the daily battle of words with the JDP leadership because this is muddling whatever broad message they have. They also need ironclad unity among opposition parties across the spectrum because their unity is key to the restoration of democracy, and democracy is the key to resolving Turkey’s internal and external challenges. Everything else is secondary. Self-centered political projects would be nothing but betrayal of nation’s trust.

On foreign and security policy, once the government presents an issue as a “national question”, the opposition usually gets trapped. They should not be.

Following President Erdogan’s decision to withdraw from the “Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence, better known as the “Istanbul Convention”, the Turkish Parliament established a new commission to work on preventing violence against women. Last week, Turkey main opposition the Republican People’s Party and its partner the Good Party withdrew from the Commission saying it was to lead nowhere. Such a commission making up for our withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention was chimera to start with, but the opposition agreed to it regardless. So, they were right to abandon it. Because remaining in the commission would only have given legitimacy to what could be agreed upon exclusively by the ruling parties’ deputies.

Perhaps, this can prompt the opposition parties to engage in some soul searching as to what they are currently achieving in parliament. Because at present they are only talking the talk, but they are yet to find a path to walk the walk.

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[i] “(As amended on April 16, 2017; Act No. 6771)” refers to the 2017 Turkish constitutional referendum amending the Constitution. The vote was 51.41% “yes”, 48.59 % “no”.

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 he held 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 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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