June 26, 2014

The difference between Putin and Erdoğan

Orhan Kemal Cengiz

The other day I was talking to a group of foreigners. After having tried to illustrate the dark side of Turkish democracy and worsening conditions, I said, “However, Erdoğan is not the Putin of Turkey.” Maybe I should have added this: “At least not yet.”

There are similarities between Russia and Turkey. Both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan use tax inspections as a method of intimidation, for example. The Taraf daily reported the other day that they are suffering from endless waves of tax inspections, which never have been an issue for media outlets supporting the government.

Erdoğan is on his way to becoming Putin in other areas as well. His witch-hunt against the Hizmet movement inspired by Fethullah Gülen continues apace. A plot to finish the movement has just been revealed in Parliament and we learned that a prosecutor in Ankara is engaged in a huge investigation against the movement. This investigation looks Kafkaesque, since the prosecutor wanted the police to make a huge inquiry into the movement, from its media outlets to all people who somehow have relations with it. The prosecutor should have had evidence that all members of the Gülen movement are suspects of serious crimes but he appears not to know what these crimes are. So he is simply trying to find out what they are!

As you probably know, some police officers who were suspected of planting listening devices in Erdoğan's office were released by a judge but were again arrested after Erdoğan strongly criticized the judges and prosecutors involved. I do not if there are serious accusations against these officers but I do know that they are put in prison simply because Erdoğan ordered this to happen.

There is an obvious difference between Erdoğan and Putin, and it is this: In Turkey, the state structures, the judiciary and legal system are not fully ready to serve Erdoğan's ambitions. Some state organs and institutions are still functioning in the proper way. And ironically, some of the state functions that prevent Erdoğan from becoming much more autocratic were created by his very government. For example, the Constitutional Court now protects freedoms with some functions, like the right to individually petition the court, assigned to it by constitutional amendments carried out by Erdoğan's government. Thus the Constitutional Court was able to lift the block on Twitter, YouTube and give some other judgments stopping Erdoğan from further limiting some freedoms.

If Erdoğan, however, is elected the next president of Turkey and somehow manages to get a majority in Parliament that will allow him to change the Constitution, I believe we will lose all these guarantees, one by one. And if all this happens in the way Erdoğan seems to have been planning for quite some time, Turkey will be ruled by a very authoritarian regime in which only one man speaks. And he will play a tripartite role -- president, prime minister and chairman of the ruling party, which will announce the end of parliamentarian system in Turkey. First, he will be de facto president (using the powers of a president in a presidential system) and then he will turn the whole system to a presidential system unique to Turkey.

I believe all this will happen if Erdoğan is elected as the next president and if he does not loose his tight control over his party during this process.

Published on Today's Zaman, 26 June 2014, Thursday