German incitement to hatred, Turkish referendum & hemorrhaging European Neoliberalism - III
by Omar Kassem on 28 Apr 2017 2 Comments

Judging the Venice Commission’s findings and Erdogan’s “Putinisation”


The constitutional amendments passed on April 16 will come into effect in March 2019, when new Presidential and parliamentary elections will be held, if and only if a whole raft of new laws can be passed in the current parliament in the meantime, to put flesh on the new framework. Erdogan’s ability to continue to effect legislative and legislative/constitutional change is based on an unshakeable core support of about 32% of the Turkish population. The “black Turk” meme used in his speeches exploits the divisions in Turkish society left over from the Atatürk legacy, but if he didn’t ally himself with other sections of what is a “multi-polar” society by using the “big tent” approach for which he is renowned, he could never have achieved the necessary majorities.


It is the contention here that the fact of the EU in its post-2005 reactionary phase of pursuing exactly the same type of policy in Turkey, by exploiting the other side of these divisions, that provides Erdogan with his majorities. More importantly, it is the perception that PKK violence, and Gülenist subversiveness is supported by foreign powers that gives Erdogan not only his majority, but the backing of a post-Ataturkist (Kemalist) establishment. Furthermore, this new establishment would not back the AKP and support emergency laws and the arrest of thousands of people if there was any inkling of government skullduggery in this regard. If there had been the fragile alliances Erdogan relies on would melt away.


Most importantly, if it is a parliamentary expression of democracy that Erdogan’s critics are keen to maintain, then criticism must also be levelled at the unwillingness of opposition parties to capitalise on parliamentary processes to achieve their aims. The CHP, for instance, continues its relentless obstructionist stance in parliament, whilst preferring to use extra-parliamentary pressure tactics such as street protests (Gezi Park). In the case of the HDP, it is the backing of a violent organisation like the PKK which is problematic, whatever the arguments.


But if the argument is that the failure of the reconciliation process between the Turkish state and the PKK is fault of the Turkish government: this is incorrect. Even the 2017 UK House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee report on “The UK’s relations with Turkey” admits to having been ‘... too unequivocal [in the past] in placing the primary responsibility on the Turkish government...’ (49). Even then the UK body does not go on to try to understand the internal conflicts and divisions within Kurdish society behind the attacks which led to collapse of peace. It was inevitable that the AKP would seek to lift the immunity of MPs that refused to disassociate themselves from the PKK, and to seek to prosecute them under anti-terror laws (including not just HDP members but also some AKP MPs).


The greatest tragedy was been the ability of the HDP to capitalise on its unprecedented June 2015 success in the general elections, ultimately forcing Erdogan, given the CHP’s rejectionism, to ally himself with the MHP on constitutional reform matters.


So while a discussion such as David Hearst’s “Putinisation” of Erdogan does make very important and valid points, especially about the retirement of Ahmet Davutoglu, the discussion needs to be qualified by noting the stark difference in the political trajectories between Putin and Erdogan, and also between the two very different social contexts in which they operate.


Clearly, the concern is: what now? Is the future trajectory different from the past? Close analysis of the constitutional changes point to the fact that although Erdogan has indeed bought himself some extra time in power, nothing changes. Should a credible opposition form from the diverse elements of Turkish society with a common programme, there is as much if not more chance for it to replace Erdogan (for instance in the March 2019 elections) as in the past. In the future, streets protests and armed violence simply won’t do to achieve power in Turkey. Only party organisation and a commitment to constitutional processes can work.


If we look at the legal opinions (issued by the Venice commission) which decry the April 16 constitutional amendments as a ‘dangerous step backwards for democracy’, the main concerns focus on the ability of the presidency to issue executive orders, the concurrent nature of presidential and parliamentary  elections, and the ability of the presidency to dissolve parliament. The problem with the Venice Commissions’ analysis is its myopic treatment of the elements which have been voted through, apart from the fact that it is in error with respect to how executive orders are supposed to function here. Parliament can actually pass a law by a majority vote, which immediately replaces any executive order. It is also wrong in judging that the presidential impeachment processes put in place cannot have teeth.


But the overall problem with the approach of the Venice Commission is its failure to recognise that really nothing has changed in a system where the dissolution of parliament is not possible without the resignation of the President at the same time and where a concurrent cycle elects Presidents and MPs at the same time. What has essentially happened in this whole process is that the “prime minister” has simply become “president”. If there is no change there, however, the significant changes will come between now and March 2019 as laws are passed, which shape the actual nature of the administrative structure, especially in regard to the intelligences services, and the armed forces.


It is these last aspects of the new reforms which Erdogan has long sought to bring into a centralised and reduced structure, in order to consolidate the “security state” on which the country’s sovereignty depends, and also logically on which the “democratic state” depends. If the US and Europe struggle in the modern age to keep the correct balance between these two aspects of the modern state, Middle Eastern states suffer not so much from an imbalance between these two elements, as from an spectacularly overbearing “security state”. However, if we have learned nothing from the Arab Spring, we have at least learned that this situation has been caused as much by the presence of the Western security state in the region as by anything else. Independence from this particular interference is necessary for democracy to succeed.


Democracy ultimately lies in a country’s evolving culture rather than in legal texts manipulable by lawyers (in truly amazing ways if the example of Aaron Director in the above discussion on Neoliberalism is anything to go by). If Erdogan succeeds in putting the “security state” fully under civilian control in Turkey in a centralised way, the traditional competition between different deep state actors will end, together with their solicitation of different foreign backers to pursue their interests. Ironic as it may seem, this will create the stability which will allow the “democratic state” inherent in the multi-polarity of Turkish society to flourish.


Furthermore, because it is in Erdogan’s and his party’s interests to minimise foreign interference in Turkish affairs it is inevitable that he will ultimately grant the Kurds federalism in the end, as he stated he wanted to way back in 2005 when he said ‘the Kurdish problem is my problem’. Then the PKK will have to face not the Turkish state, but the Kurdish constituency itself, and the lever the European powers have over Turkish politics will disappear.


And as far as the deception on which Germany’s “Neoliberal” democracy is based... to use James Callaghan’s imagery ‘...the sky is dark with chickens coming home to roost’.



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