domingo, 8 de maio de 2016
What ‘Boss’ Erdoğan’s after
“A decade ago, when Turkey’s democracy thrived, Europe wanted nothing to do with the Turks. Nowadays, the more autocratic we get, the more Europeans seem to want us — as long as we keep the refugees.”
LETTER FROM ISTANBUL
What ‘Boss’ Erdoğan’s after
Erdoğan is rushing to switch Turkey’s governing system to presidential rule — and his prime minister is the latest casualty.
By ASLI AYDINTASBAS 5/7/16, 5:32 AM CET
ISTANBUL — A day after Turkey’s Europe-friendly Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu was sacked, the man many say was behind the decision, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, lashed out at the European Union once again, saying that Ankara would not bow to Brussels’ demands.
“We will go our way, you go yours,” Erdoğan said. Turkey will fight terrorism the way it sees fit, he added, and flat-out refused to make changes to the country’s anti-terror legislation to meet European requirements. The announcement cast doubt on the EU’s plan to grant Turks visa-free travel to the Schengen area and strengthened concerns that Erdoğan is rushing to switch the governing system to presidential rule.
Erdoğan is not bluffing. With Davutoğlu out of the way, he will change the country’s anti-terror legislation, but in a way that would allow journalists or academics who “are supportive of terrorism,” according to a prosecutor, to be treated as terrorists. He also wants to expand the definition of terrorism to apply to other opponents of his governing style.
On top of that, he wants Europe to keep quiet about it and about everything else that might happen in the country while he strengthens his rule. Given that the Turkey-EU relationship is essentially hostage to the refugee crisis, and that Europe has already proved it is willing to compromise its values in exchange for Turkey keeping the refugees, Erdoğan may well get his wish.
And therein lies the irony of Turkey’s relationship with Europe. A decade ago, when Turkey’s democracy thrived, Europe wanted nothing to do with the Turks. Nowadays, the more autocratic we get, the more Europeans seem to want us — as long as we keep the refugees.
Take what happened on Wednesday night, when Turkish television paid very little attention to the fact that the European Commission had recommended lifting the Schengen visa requirement for Turkish citizens, finally cracking open Europe’s heavily fortified gates to Turks.
Davutoğlu thought he actually was the prime minister of Turkey. Big mistake.
That evening, all that Turkish viewers cared about was the kabuki dance between Erdoğan and his hand-picked prime minister, Davutoğlu, following a week of speculation that tensions were running high between the two.
In a move orchestrated by Erdoğan the week before, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) had stripped Turkey’s ever-smiling premier of all powers within the party. Even though neither of them explained the decision as they were posing for cameras at various gatherings, and Turkey’s tightly-controlled media was too timid to ask about rumors of a potential rift, it was clear that something had been cooking.
On social media, a peculiar fight broke out between Erdoğan and Davutoğlu supporters. Then a post by an anonymous author called the “Pelican Declaration” appeared online, viciously attacking Davutoğlu for allegedly trying to undermine Turkey’s president by, among other things, conspiring with Europe.
This couldn’t have been written without a direct sign-off from the presidency, everyone assumed.
They were right.
After a meeting between the two men that lasted less than two hours, Turkey’s prime minister was sacked.
This wasn’t in line with the constitution, but then again what is constitutional in Turkey these days? Davutoğlu’s approval ratings were high. He had won an election in November with nearly 50 percent of the votes and brokered a miraculous deal on refugees with the European Union, jump-starting Turkey’s long-idle EU accession process.
* * *
Amid the darkness that had descended on Turkey, with the obvious slip into authoritarianism, Davutoğlu had tried to smooth the edges off Erdoğan’s one-man rule. He tried to counterbalance Erdoğan’s harsh rhetoric on Europe with EU–friendly statements and maneuvered behind the scenes for the release of academics who had been arrested for signing a peace declaration. He also tried to free high-profile journalists, jailed on charges brought up by Erdoğan.
Davutoğlu never confronted Erdoğan publicly, but cautiously led efforts to alter the course of events, trying to pass anti-corruption legislation, curbing the country’s unchecked urban development zeal, exerting control over the party and enlisting more reformist AKP types as parliamentarians.
He failed on all counts.
Of course, Davutoğlu was no freedom fighter. There were far too many human rights violations under his watch, too, and at the center of it is the horrendous fighting between the Turkish army and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). On that the former premier did nothing. Every public speech he made was an effort to appease Erdoğan, often underlying how they saw eye-to-eye on everything. But in his own way, behind the scenes, he tried to polish rough edges off Erdoğan’s draconian rule.
And therein lay his downfall.
Davutoğlu thought he actually was the prime minister of Turkey. But the role Turkey’s president had cut out for him was more of a “coordinator” of government services until Erdoğan managed to tip the balance of power from the government to the president.
A decade ago, when Turkey’s democracy thrived, Europe wanted nothing to do with the Turks. Nowadays, the more autocratic we get, the more Europeans seem to want us — as long as we keep the refugees.
Under the Turkish system, the presidency is a largely ceremonial post. The power lies with the executive branch, led by the prime minister. But Erdoğan made it clear since he was elected in August 2014 that he would be “a different kind of president,” attending cabinet meetings even though that is allowed only under an emergency clause in the constitution. Soon after his inauguration, he announced plans for a new constitution that changed Turkey’s system to a U.S. style presidential system.
There was discontent in the presidential palace that Davutoğlu was not wholeheartedly supporting these changes. The prime minister, after all, had committed the cardinal sin after the June 2015 election, when he said: “We wanted a presidential system but the people did not approve it.”
Erdoğan never forgave him.
Europe contributed to Davutoğlu’s demise, while trying to do exactly the opposite. European officials have been telling me for months that part of their leniency on Turkey had to do with a desire to empower the more “reformist” side of the AKP led by Davutoğlu. “We have no other leverage or policy other than hoping that Davutoğlu would be able to reign Erdoğan in,” a senior diplomat said a few weeks ago.
Davutoğlu, 57, is a former academic and a graduate of Turkey’s prestigious Bosphorus University. He is fluent in English and German, and compared to the stern-looking Erdoğan, he was the friendly face of Turkey in Europe. Within the AKP political elite, Davutoğlu is called Hoca — a teacher or professor — and Erdogan is always referred to as Reis — The Boss.
Turkish President Erdogan commissioned PM Davutoglu to form the new government
President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (R) with former Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu (L) in Ankara, Turkey on November 17, 2015 | Kayhan Ozer/Anadolu Agency viaGetty Images
One of those who fell for Hoca’s charms was German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who reversed her policy of keeping Turkey at arm’s-length from Europe. When the Continent faced the refugee crises, she developed a close working relationship with Davutoğlu. It was in March, over a five-hour dinner at the Turkish Embassy in Brussels, that two clinched the €3 billion deal for refugees. The pact also stipulated visa-free travel to the EU for Turks that could come as early as June.
Back home and throughout the delicate negotiations in Brussels, Erdoğan kept blasting Europe at public rallies, alleging the Europeans were supporting terrorism, baulking on a promise to deliver €3 billion for the Syrian refugees in Turkey, having double standards etc.
He was irked by the attention showered on his prime minister and saw in it an international plot to undermine him. What finally pushed him over the edge was a statement by Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament, to Bild Am Sontag in April.
“We have made the pact, not with Mr. Erdoğan but with the Turkish Republic,” Schulz said. Erdoğan responded that this was “an operation against Turkey by the German school,” using terminology from the world of intelligence — operasyon — and underlying what he saw as Germany’s role in boosting the Turkish president. (Incidentally, Davutoğlu is a graduate of a German high school in Istanbul.)
* * *
None of this was unexpected, but it unraveled faster and sooner than most expected.
There is no doubt that Turkey is entering an even darker period because most moderate voices have been sidelined and checks-and-balances against what Erdoğan calls “a Turkish-style presidency,” all but removed. Of course, the AKP’s ranks are filled with disgruntled Islamists who feel that the country is taking a wrong turn, but after seeing how Davutoğlu had been treated, few will have the courage to raise their voice.
Given Erdoğan’s resolve to reverse Turkey’s gains in Europe to tighten his grip on power, the May 22 AKP party congress to find Davutoğlu’s successor already appears a farce. There are three candidates whose names have been floated – one is Erdoğan’s son-in-law and the other two are his trusted confidants.
None of them matter, though. From now on, Turkey will be run by one man.
Asli Aydintasbas is a journalist based in Istanbul.