Turkey Analyst
Last updated: 23 May, 2012

What the columnists say in Turkey

Conservative, pro-AKP commentators are increasingly making the case that Turkey should abandon its present, parliamentarian system in favor of a presidential system. They argue that that is the logical consequence of the fact that the next president is for the first time going to be popularly elected; they claim that the people is bound to expect that the person that it elects also have more power. However, a recent survey commissioned by the parliamentary committee that is going to be drafting the new constitution reveals that there is little popular support for giving more power to the president, including among those who support the AKP. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s talk about “one religion” as a “red line” for the AKP occasioned a furious comment from the editor-in-chief of the influential liberal daily Taraf, who went as far as calling it a “crime” that would set Turkey on fire. Another liberal commentator wrote that Erdoğan had in fact merely stated the obvious, that Sunni Islam has always enjoyed preeminence.


Mustafa Karaalioğlu in Star writes that it seems improbable that the current parliament will be able to agree on a constitution that introduces a presidential or a semi-presidential system. That is not because the parties are loyal to the philosophy of the present political system, but a consequence of the fact that the opposition parties don’t have any candidates for the presidency. They don’t expect that anyone that is close to themselves will stand any chance to be elected president by the people in the foreseeable future. As Tayyip Erdoğan is the first name that comes to mind as president, since there are no second or third candidates, the discussion immediately turns into one about whether this enhanced power should be given to Erdoğan. Yet, that is not the real issue. The mission of those who are going to draft the new constitution is to ensure that the president, who is going to be elected by the people, enjoys the power that is commensurate with his popular legitimacy. The new president, whether it’s going to be Erdoğan or someone else, is not going to interpret his authority in restricted terms; he is not only going to enjoy the authority that the current constitution bestows, but will also have the power that comes from having at least fifty one percent of the people behind him. Concurrently, the expectations of society on the president are also going to be greater; the president will be expected to weigh more heavily over the system, and to be more involved in governing. Thus, the first president to be elected by the people is inevitably going to usher in a semi-presidential system. Consequently, it is vitally important that the drafters of the constitution see to it to rearrange the power distribution between Çankaya (the presidential palace) and the parliament/government in a way that ensures the smooth functioning of the system.


Eyüp Can in Radikal observes that there is no popular support in favor of a presidential system. The results of a survey that was conducted by the parliamentary commission that is assigned the duty of drafting the new constitution reveals that giving more power to the president is not anything that ordinary citizens give priority to; their expectation is above all that the new constitution is “just” and secondly that it secures “freedom”. And what about the presidential system? 56 percent want to keep the current, parliamentary system. Only 16 percent prefer a presidential system. Vast majorities among those who would vote for the three opposition parties reject the presidential system; in fact, 46 percent of the voters of the AKP reject it as well; only 20 percent of the AKP voters want a system where the president has been accorded more power. So the conclusion is that the AKP needs to persuade its own voters first. Perhaps that is why Erdoğan has said that the issue must be discussed.


Kadri Gürsel in Milliyet writes that the AKP is now engaged in an attempt to impose its authoritarian vision on society. They are endeavoring to refashion society in their own image, as illustrated by the professed ambition to “raise pious generations”, by the undermining of secular education, by the interference of cabinet ministers in the contents of television series. And now, you can tell that some of those who helped bring about this totalitarian turn are feeling embarrassed. Some liberals who defended the facile assumption that disposing of the military/bureaucratic tutelage regime of the Kemalist republic would automatically usher in democratization are now under moral pressure after having gone intellectually bankrupt. The most ridiculous “criticism” leveled at the AKP is the one that is formulated by these liberals, They feel obligated to go on record as having said at least a few critical words about the AKP, but the only thing they can bring themselves to say is that “AKP has become Kemalist, the Muslims have become Kemalists.” Now, since the AKP is about to carry out a sort of “culture revolution” of its own, these comrades, among whom some are old Maoists may eventually end up saying “the AKP has become Maoist”. Or are we expected to designate every totalitarian ideology there is as “Kemalist”? As they want to avoid calling the AKP by its right name, they seek refuge in the allegation of a “Kemalist AKP”. It’s disingenuous.


In a furious column, Ahmet Altan in Taraf writes that Prime Minister Erdoğan committed a most serious crime when he said that ”one religion” is a ”red line” for the Turkish republic. That amounts to betraying secularism, and to a violation the Constitution and of the law. Just as homicide is a crime, so it is a crime to blur the distinction between state and religion, with the implication that other faiths than the “one religion” have no place, and that citizens have to accept the religion of the state’s choosing. Indeed, if you ask me, it’s an even worse crime. Because when you attempt to change the “secular” character of the state, then society is going to split, and this country will become worse than Lebanon. A lot of people will be killed. The prime minister may have fifty percent behind him, but he has fifty percent against him. And besides, when the prime minister attacks secularism, he will not find all of that fifty percent behind him anymore. Those who now for different reasons cannot agree with each other, Kurds, Turks, Muslims, non-Muslims, Sunnis, Alevis, Kemalists, democrats, rightists and leftists will congregate in a wide alliance in support of secularism.


Oral Calışlar in Radikal writes that Prime Minister Erdoğan continues to criticize the authoritarian structure of the republic and the one party dictatorship (between 1923 and 1950). Yet we can also observe that he has adopted much of the republican discourse, with its emphasis on uniformity; indeed, he occasionally defends uniformity in a way that is even more dogmatic than what the Kemalists do. The tradition of defending homogeneity is so strong in Turkey that even those who once started off as its critics end up being sucked into the same mode of thinking. But when you look at the big picture, adding “one religion” to “one state, one nation, one flag” doesn’t amount to anything other than stating the obvious.  It’s enough to recall that the Jewish and Christian citizens of this country are still officially designated (in the law of the foundations) as “foreigners”. The minorities know very well, and so does the world, that despite secularism and Westernization, the dominant view in this country is still informed by the notions of “one religion” and “one sect”. We are only fooling ourselves when we presume otherwise.

This article was first published in the Turkey Analyst (www.turkeyanalyst.org), a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program Joint Center.