An impending bill in Turkey is raising fears that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will further increase his grip on the country; this, as a new political system is ushered in that already vastly expands his powers.
The draft legislation allows the president to place restrictions on public demonstrations; detain suspects of some crimes for up to 12 days; limit who can enter certain regions of the country; and remove state employees for up to three years.
The bill was proposed just hours before Turkey’s two-years-long state of emergency, which essentially permitted Erdogan to rule by decree, expired at midnight on July 18.
“If these powers [bestowed by the prospective law] do get transferred, lifting the state of emergency is purely a cosmetic measure,” Amnesty International’s Andrew Gardner said in response to the government initiative.
The expiration of the state of emergency fulfilled a campaign promise by Erdogan, who instated the measure in the immediate aftermath of a 2016 coup attempt
blamed on exiled Turkish cleric Fetullah Gulen. Over 150,000 civil servants were summarily dismissed or suspended in an ensuing purge.
The new presidential system, though, grants Erdogan the authority to issue decrees in the absence of a declared state of emergency, although the government claims any such diktats will be more limited in scope. The Turkish leader also has greater leverage to fire and hire judges and to dissolve parliament, with the latter triggering elections.
As Erdogan increases his power, civil society organizations and their members are considered by many as the few remaining sources capable of placing a check on his total control over the country.
One of the most prominent groups among them is the women’s movement. In March, thousands of activists converged on the main pedestrian street in central Istanbul to mark International Women’s Day, a rare example of a protest uninterrupted by police or barred by Turkish law.
Dilara Gevrek, a member of the Women’s Assembly NGO in Istanbul, attended the demonstration. While her group faces constant pressure, Gevrek says her organization has not been subjected to restrcitions on planning rallies like the Women’s Day event. She believes women’s rights activists are given more freedom because there is a modicum of support for the movement within parliament.
“We can raise our voice and win our rights back because they are taken every day from us,” Gevrek told The Media Line.
Like other activists, Gevrek is pushing against the grain, as Erdogan has long promoted traditional gender roles, with women viewed as mothers meant to stay home as opposed to going to school or working.
Nevertheless, she and her allies have had some success, including a campaign that shined a spotlight on the police's alleged mishandling of an investigation into the death of Sule Cet, a university student who fell out of her boss’ 20th-floor office.Hurriyet Daily News
reported that Cet had earlier sent a text message stating, “I can’t get out of here, this man doesn’t let me go, he is obsessed with me.” An autopsy later concluded that she had been sexually assaulted and identified her boss’ DNA under her fingernails.
The purported assailant was released by police but detained again this month following demonstrations and the launch of a social media campaign, including the creation of a Twitter account by the victim's brother that included a hashtag demanding justice, which went viral.
Another curb on Erdogan's complete governance could end up being economic stagnation.
“One can conceive of a situation where the markets force [Erdogan] to take a policy he doesn't want to take,” Howard Eissenstat, Professor of Middle East History at St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York, explained to The Media Line.
During the June presidential and parliamentary elections, Erdogan vowed to increase his control over Ankara’s monetary policy, prompting concern about the continued independence of Turkey's central bank. After his re-election, a decree was issued stating the president would appoint a central bank governor, deputies and committee members.
Fears over the state of the economy increased this month when Erdogan appointed his son-in-law as finance minister, a move that led to a drop in the Turkish Lira, which has plummeted over 20 percent this year alone.
Another hotly debated policy relates to interest rates, which investors believe need to be hiked to cool down an over-heated market. However, Erdogan repeatedly spoke on the campaign trail about the need to maintain low interest rates, reiterating the point as recently as last week in a newspaper interview.
Eissenstat also noted that a worsening economy could force the Turkish president to improve relations with the West in a bid to reassure markets. “Turkey is at its core still a market state,” he asserted. “It needs foreign direct investment.”
Erdogan’s coalition partner might also curb his influence, as the MHP strongly outperformed expectations in the parliamentary vote by garnering 11 percent of the total ballots.
The party's surprising success allowed Erdogan's mini-coalition to maintain a parliamentary majority. MHP leader Devlet Bahceli's decision to not contest the presidency, and thus not split Turkey's right-wing base, also greatly contributed to Erdogan securing a first-round victory.
The MHP is an ultra-nationalist party that advocates for the continued imprisonment of the pro-Kurdish HDP’s presidential candidate. Erdogan accuses the HDP of having links to the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), which has led a decades-long insurgency in Turkey and is deemed a terrorist organization by Ankara, the United States and European Union.
Assistant Professor Louis Fishman, a Turkey expert at CUNY in the US, believes that if Erdogan wanted to restart negotiations with the PKK, he would risk losing support from the MHP.
“Bachievli would make it very difficult,” he stressed The Media Line.
The MHP leader also previously suggested that he wants Turkey to fight against US-allied Kurdish forces in Syria, which could yet prove another strain on the Ankara-Washington relationship.
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