While Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s recent display of ‘eulogisim’ for Nazi Germany certainly has provoked sarcasm from around the world, the comment came amid the highly increased power drive Erdogan is planning to ride on in Turkey: presidential form of government. His relentless campaign for this particular system is not only highly controversial but may also turn out to be potentially destructive.
Given the strategic and political background it is being propagated against, it cannot be gainsaid that the Erdogan-led ruling elite is not only bent upon concentrating powers into an ‘Erdoganish’ center but also restricting operational area of electoral politics to particular sections of Turkish society.
This is increasingly becoming evident from the way Turkey-based Kurds — who are Turkish citizens by all means — have been systematically excluded from the mainstream political system. If various media reports were to be believed, a sense of alienation is increasing manifold, and so are the prospects of the transformation of political tussle into a militant one.
Not only are Kurds being criminalized through a systematic state propaganda aimed at projecting them and their political aspirations as ‘treacherous’, but they are also being forced into a situation whereby they may be ultimately compelled to shun their electoral method of politics. Notwithstanding the vital interests Kurds may happen to have in Turkey, increasing marginalization within the country is most likely to cause political suffocation on a scale much larger than what the Erdogan-led Turkish elite seems to have calculated.
On the other hand, political exclusion of Kurds and Erdogan’s drive for presidential form of government are a wonderful display of how deeply personalized, instead of democratic, Turkey’s political system is rapidly becoming. It is personalized in the sense that Erdogan’s campaign for presidential form of government started only when he was no longer constitutionally eligible to becoming prime minister. Hence, all praise for presidential system in the name of what the delusionally self-appointed caliph calls political ‘stability.’
Erdogan’s reliance on stability mantra is, however, also a glaring reflection of the way a ‘conflict-situation’ is exploited for political gains. That is to say, Erdogan is selling the current phase of the conflict in the Middle East, as also the grave ‘dangers’ it has exposed Turkey to, to his ‘nation’ for convincing them of the need for a ‘new constitution’ and a ‘new system.’
It is truly remarkable to see how Erdogan – who is by all means a constitutional president and is supposed to be above all ‘party politics’ — is running the campaign for ‘new system’ as an agenda of his own party. Speaking on the occasion of celebrating the ceremony to commemorate the 741st anniversary of the death of Jalaladdin Rumi (Mevlana), Erdogan reiterated, “At the moment, the party which I founded [the Justice and Development Party – AKP] is the ruling party and Ahmet Bey [Davutoğlu], with whom I have had a camaraderie for years, is the prime minister. Despite this, it is us who insist on transformation, change and a New Turkey.”
The demand for the so-called “new Turkey” seemingly gained substantial strength, within the ruling elite’s political circles, when his party was forced to face the hitherto most difficult political situation in June 2015 when it had failed to secure enough votes to form a government single-handedly.
This temporal decline had coincided with temporal rise of Kurdish political party, leaving Erdogan with no option but to call for fresh elections.
Although his party did win enough seats in November elections to form a government without the need for any coalition, the threat the rise of ‘other’ parties have now potentially started to pose to his rule is not going to decline in the near future. Nor does parliamentary system have such a ‘tool box’ that he can use to exercise powers directly. Hence, the need for presidential form of government and direct use of power.
Erdogan’s current view about the best-fitting political regime for Turkey is in sharp contrast to what he had said back in 2007, when the ruling AK Party was working to draw up a new constitution. In the speech, Erdoğan as prime minister had argued that the president’s powers should be limited for a better functioning of democracy.
“We are drafting a constitution in which the president’s authority will also be restricted,” he said during a program aired on TRT 2. Back in 2007, the AK Party had said in its program that the powers of the president would be re-evaluated in line with the parliamentary system.
“That meant a president with only symbolic powers. This is a view which is diametrically opposed to what Erdoğan preaches today,” said Istanbul Şehir University’s Özbudun, who was charged by the ruling party at the time with drawing up a new constitution.
In terms of what has changed between 2007 and 2015, two crucial things stand out: Kurdish political rise in Turkey and the conflict in the Middle East, which has now very well crept into Turkish territory itself.
Although it cannot be gainsaid that Erdogan is equally responsible for bringing Turkey to the brink of civil war, it can also not be denied that the way he re-invented war with Kurds after June 2015 elections did render his party a helping hand in winning absolute majority in November. For some, it was a “master” political stroke as far as the benefits Erdogan reaped out of it.
That is to say, when Erdoğan launched attacks on PKK camps located in the Kandil Mountains in northern Iraq on July 20, 2015, the PKK’s response was, as could be expected then, a wave of counter-attacks across Turkey; as such, the PKK turned out, unwittingly though, the main actor responsible for Erdogan’s success in the Nov. 1 general election.
While Erdogan was certainly able to secure victory by relying on this war, his need for eliminating the Kurdish threat has not died out yet. In fact, as Erdogan continues to push for imposing a military solution on Kurdish question, Turkish Kurds are increasingly becoming much more prone to the PKK’s idea of independence.
As such, HDP’s co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş’ remark that “In the future, Kurdistan will have its status. Kurds will perhaps have their federal or independent states,” can only be seen as a partial surrender of HDP’s electoral politics to the PKK’s militant politics.
However, were the HDP-led Kurds to start campaigning for independence (and this is what Erdogan wants them do), it will certainly greatly facilitate Erdogan’s campaign for presidential system and all the more the need for ‘stability.’
The long and short of it is that just as the PKK was forced into a battle after June, HDP is also being pushed to the wall to pave the way for a new constitution. And it is in this context that Erdogan’s reaction against Demirtas’ statement can be understood.
By labelling Demirtas as a potential ‘traitor’, Erdogan is directly watering an already precarious conflict situation within Turkey which may turn into a serious crisis, allowing Erdogan to change the system relatively easily.
Turkey’s involvement in the Mid-Eastern crisis, its war against Kurds within Turkey, in Syria and in Iraq are, therefore, crucially linked with Turkey’s internal politics. Therefore, it is Turkey’s domestic politics, particularly Erdogan’s own political position, which is going to greatly influence, if not actually determine, broader dimensions as well as the extent of Turkey’s involvement in the conflict.
While this seems to be the logical conclusion, it is equally true, as much as it is detestable, that Kurds are directly going to be the biggest victims of the modern Caliph’s power drive towards re-invention of ‘Ottoman Empire.’
Salman Rafi Sheikh is a freelance journalist and research analyst of international relations and Pakistan affairs. His area of interest is South and West Asian politics, the foreign policies of major powers, and Pakistani politics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org