Onemanat the helm, alone
Another ﬁve years in power if Allah wills it. Erdoğan needs all the help he can get to weather the Turkish economic storm.
- Saturday, 01 September 2018
A new chapter has begun in the political history of Turkey. June 9 marked the beginning of the Second Republic in which executive power was concentrated in the hands of the President. The swearing in of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at the Grand National Assembly, and an opulent celebration involving representatives of 22 countries, consecrated the beginning of the New Turkey. The modified system, established by the amendment of 18 articles of the country’s constitution approved by a referendum on 16 April 2017, entered into force as a “a new administrative model that is far beyond our 150-year-old pursuit of democracy and all the trials in our 95-year-long Republican history,” announced Erdoğan, vowing to “leave behind a system that cost the country heavily because of the political, social and economic chaos it caused in the past.”
On the same day as the swearing in of the new president, two decrees were issued that abolished a number of existing ministries, transferring their powers to a new formation headed directly by the president. With the restructuring of the state and the hierarchical system, the number of ministerial portfolios was reduced to those for Employment, Industry and Technology, Trade and Industry, and Forestry, Youth and Sport, the Treasury and Finance, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
With the formation of the first cabinet under the new system it is clear how the future course of Turkish politics will be dependent on the wishes of President Erdoğan. There is certain continuity with the past with the reappointment of Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu at the Foreign Ministry, the appointment of Süleyman Soylu at the Ministry of the Interior, the transfer of Berat Albayrak from Energy to the Economy, while General Ulusi Hakar’s move from Chief of General Staff to Minister of Defence was not a surprise. Erdoğan himself during the electoral campaigning had declared himself “paşa”, or head of the military with the power to appoint high-ranking army chiefs. Within this context of just one man in complete command, the new ministerial appointments were low profile figures unknown to most, majority of them being technocrats of conservative extraction. A presidential executive, therefore, in which the system of checks and balances seems to be extremely weak.
Erdoğan’s choice to chair the first meeting of the new cabinet in the parliamentary hall inaugurated by the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, meant that the beginning of the Second Republic assumed a symbolic value. This was the apex of the personal project of Erdoğan and his AKP that, following 16 years in power, on 24 June 2018 signed the most significant pact with the people. With 52.5% of the vote, Erdoğan was installed as the head of the presidential system. “The winner of these elections is democracy and the will of the people, each of our 81 million citizens,” were Erdoğan’s words as he welcomed his victory, emphasizing the huge voter turnout of almost 90%. But this was a double victory: there was also the parliamentary majority obtained thanks to the coalition with the nationalist party the MHP (Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi), the People’s Alliance won 53.7% of total votes that, in the new parliament composed of 600 seats, will be represented by 342 members (293 from the AKP and 146 for MHP).In what was expected to be a battle for every last vote, the elements that contributed to Erdoğan’s triumph were his combination of charisma and personal power as head of the party and prime minister and now as president and absolute sovereign, plus the prescient calculation of the timing and his educated gamble on the nationalist fringe. Formalized in March 2018 on the margins of the reform of the Electoral Law, the People’s Alliance was established with the aim of strengthening support for the AKP, enabling the MHP, the popularity of which was in decline, to be represented in the Grand National Assembly. The electoral reform permitted pre-election alliances, enabling the political parties to establish coalitions and to keep their names and logos on the ballots. Therefore, the votes cast for each party flowed into the larger basin of the coalition and if the alliance exceeded the threshold of 10%, according to the Hondt method, the seats were assigned also to the minor parties.
In what, based on Erdoğan’s political projects, had the look of an election for life, cementing consensus along nationalist-Islamic lines proved to be a winning strategy, providing further evidence once again of the leader’s capacity to speak to the depths of the country’s psyche, accurately targeting some very precise concepts. The national greatness, founded on a deep pride and the courage of the Turkish people, as demonstrated on 15 July 2016 during the night of the attempted coup, these qualities were the glue between the conservative and more nationalist sectors of society. As a corollary of the pride of being Turkish in the AKP’s political propaganda and playing a significant role was the recollection of Turkish “strength” in building a güçlü meclis (strong parliament), güçlü hukumet (strong political system) that required, obviously, a strong leader. Foreign military operations against Turkey’s enemies and the threats posed to the country were the official motivation for calling early elections. In April Erdoğan publically explained that “the intensification of Turkey’s internal and external agenda has obliged us to remove uncertainty through early elections fixed for 24 June.” The announcement followed a meeting behind closed doors with political partner Devlet Bahçeli, leader of the MHP who a few hours earlier had called for the government to hold early elections before November 2019, proposing initially the date of 26 August 2018. In what appeared to be a rehearsed strategy, the urgency to begin the executive presidential system hinged on the recent domestic and foreign developments and on the necessity to capitalise promptly on the consensus obtained by foreign military operations.
A lull in Operation Olive branch, the offensive launched in January 2018 to clear the Syrian district of Afrin from the threat posed by the Syrian Kurdish militia of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) combined with the growing concern about the economic situation – the real social glue and a source of pride for the AKP administration – pose serious conundrums especially because of the the continued devaluation of the Turkish lire against the dollar and the double digit rate of inflation. The stock markets greeted the new executive with a sudden drop in the value of the lire in a sign of the lack of faith in the new team that is without some notable figures capable of reassuring investors of the stability of the Turkish market. Already during the electoral campaign the president did not fail to seize upon the opportunity to accuse foreign forces of weakening the lire, calling on his Turkish brethren “to convert savings in dollars and other foreign currencies into Turkish lire,” in order to support the national economy. And in an emergency intervention in May the Turkish Central Bank increased the interest rate by 300 base points, continuing to apply measures to contain the increased volatility of the currency and to prevent the eventuality of an economic crash similar to that of 2001.
In light of the goal of becoming one of the highest earning economies by 2023, the electoral manifesto was focused on the economy and the necessity for effective measures to combat the high rate of inflation. “Trust and stability will continue to be the strengths of our economy, the engine of which will continue to grow,” the president repeatedly claimed. Emphasizing the Muslim concept of fraternity (kardeşlik), and the tangible results achieved by the AKP during its mandates, he called for the electorate to believe in him one more time. Erdoğan’s aim was to protect the economic results, incentivising production and exports and proposing new plans for the construction of factories, the implementation of technological projects and incentives for the defence industry, in addition to the large infrastructure projects. With a strong economy the country can resist attacks on its currency “designed by foreign powers to create economic difficulties for Turkey.”
Reflecting the perception of the greatness of the nation and the results obtained by the AKP, Erdoğan’s rhetoric revolved around the slogan “vakit Türkiye vakti” meaning “it’s time for Turkey”. “If anyone can produce tangible results, that’s the AKP,” repeated the president at every campaign stop, listing his government’s political successes and tangible results in terms of services for the population. His advantage over other candidates was based on the fact of already having been tried and tested by the electorate that legitimized him to bring to fruition his great project of the presidential system. With the slogan yaparsa yine AKP yapar (if they have the chance the AKP will do it again) the AKP drew a dividing line with the parties of the opposition, perceived as ineffective in satisfying social demands and ensuring productivity and abundance.
In a changing world, the AKP has thus been anointed to face each challenge thanks to the implementation of the executive system in which the president is the undisputed leader.
24 June 2018 was the day in which Turkish politics undertook a significant change in direction, sealed by a victory obtained “with the help of the almighty”, thus teaching “another lesson to Europe and all those who yearn to see Erdoğan fail.”
In this light, as well as a new era of politics, it appears that Turkey is seeing the implementation of Tayyipismas the state ideology. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is today the most influential leader since the time of Atatürk; his goal is to become even more glorious than Turkey’s founding father. Some serious questions about democratic standards and the reinvigoration of relationships with the West persist. Where opposition forces have proved to be solid and capable of working together, the hope is that the tendency towards a pluralist interpretation of the political system, in spite of the fragile state of the checks and balances, will be maintained, demonstrating that beyond the monolithic vision there is a collection of souls ready to come to the country’s aid.