Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan makes a speech during his meeting with mukhtars at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Turkey. Photo: Yasin Bulbul/Presidential Palace/ handout via Reuters
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan makes a speech during his meeting with mukhtars at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Turkey. Photo: Yasin Bulbul/Presidential Palace/ handout via Reuters

They were fighting over, not for democracy and constitutional changes that Erdogan is trying to introduce in Turkey in the name of political stability.

Last Thursday saw Turkish members of the parliament brawling and throwing chairs as parliament approved three more articles in a hugely controversial bill bolstering the powers of President Erdogan. The three articles were passed with between 341 and 343 votes in favour.

Out of the 18 articles added in the bill, five have been approved, allowing Erdogan to showcase his strength, if not absolute majority, in the parliament in alliance with Nationalist Movement Party.

Both the Republican People’s Party and the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party are vehemently opposing the bill and have clearly warned of the dire consequences of Turkey’s drift towards authoritarianism.

While it is largely believed that the bill will be ultimately passed, although there are also reports that suggest that dissent from within the AKP could give the draft bill a rocky ride in the days to come when votes are made on the most contentious articles, Erdogan’s power drive is setting Turkey onto a dangerous path that can self-destruct politically if the bill fails to get enough public support in referendum.

According to a Turkish analyst, “Almost all constitutional experts have been emphasizing the need for a healthy and inclusive debate in society ahead of any parliamentary discussion. This obviously did not take place as Turkey was rushed into a state of emergency following the failed coup of July 15, 2016” (read: this constitutional change has been introduced and being debated when the state of emergency was extended in early January for three more months).

Continuing with this ‘emergency momentum,’  the Turkish Parliament has, in the same vain, been hustled into becoming a ‘wrestle mania’ where fists, punches and flying chairs have conveniently replaced healthy debate and reasoning.

On the other hand, Turkey’s PM Binali Yıldırım seems to have changed his mind on the necessity to hold a referendum after the termination of the state of emergency. While the government – with a focus on short-term political goals – might not worry about the legitimacy of referendum results under a state of emergency, it is not hard to imagine that this could possibly be the longest surviving systemic change.

On the other hand, boycott by Republican People`s Party (CHP) and pro-Kurdish Peoples` Democratic Party (HDP) imply that not only is this constitutional change likely to alienate ethnic minorities further but also set the stage for internal conflict.

Along with a slew of terror attacks, the political uncertainty has been one of the factors pressuring the Turkish lira, which has slid 18 per cent against the dollar over the last three months.

The instability is now being added fresh fuel. After the brawl, a ruling AK Party deputy warned that snap elections would be held if the bill was not passed. A deputy from the main opposition CHP party responded late on Thursday with a call for such a move.

“Today instead of seeking such a regime change, we as the CHP give full support to an early election decision. We say bring it on,” the CHP’s Ozgur Ozel told the general assembly.

Political turmoil is gripping Turkey at a time when its economy has been hard hit by poor performance. Towards the end of the last year 2016, an IMF report said, growth figure for the third quarter remained negative and around 0.5%, meaning that the Turkish economy was showing signs of contraction for the first time since mid-2009.

This decline is likely to leave a negative impact on the ruling AKP party as economic growth has been a key booster of popular support for it since it came to power 14 years ago.

Economic performance in the external sector is also likely to see a downwards trend. As such, while the European Union’s share of Turkish exports remains the largest at 48.5%, it is stagnant. Trade with the EU could take a further hit from growing political tensions after the failed July-15 coup attempt.

Market losses in the Middle East also continue to expand. In the first nine months of 2016, the share of Middle Eastern countries in Turkish exports fell from 22% to 21.3% as exports declined to some $22 billion, a 5.7% decrease from the same period last year.

Under these circumstances, an economic tremor is Ankara’s worst nightmare, especially now that a drive to install a presidential regime is afoot and turning into a crisis of the kind where the ruling party is absolutely unwilling to re-negotiate or bring the opposition parties to a common and agreeable point.

As the economic data shows, the economy is on a contraction course, which, for the man in the street, will mean more unemployment, less prosperity and debt defaults.

For the supporters of Erdogan, the proposed constitutional change would help the government tackle these issues more efficiently. However, were the disagreement to stay and brawl in the parliament to shift to Turkey’s streets, a crisis of far reaching consequences would ensue and pit Turkey against its own self.

A constitutional change being introduced in Turkey in the shadow of emergency and when thousands remain incarcerated on charges of affiliation with Gulen and when Erdogan government is using this state of emergency to potentially wipe-out Kurdish institutions .

The proposed change, which Erdogan is confident of passing through the parliament, will leave the parliament without any head in the future. And as a Turkish analyst has put it aptly, “the recent pictures of the AKP and CHP lawmakers strangling each other during voting sessions are merely a perfect analogy to the soon-to-be-strangled Turkish Parliament”—an analogy that is likely to see a shift from the parliament to streets if the bill is passed in the current un-compromising fashion.

Salman Rafi Sheikh is a Pakistan based independent journalist and a research analyst of international relations and Pakistan affairs. His areas of interest include South and West Asian Geo-politics, the foreign policies of major powers, and Pakistani politics. He can be reached at salmansheikh.ss11.sr@gmail.com