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Tuesday, 31 July 2007

So, what's next?

Yesterday, Turkey's Electoral Commission officially confirmed the results of last Sunday's election. There are two significant alterations: AK have gained an extra seat at the expense of an independent in the far southeastern town of Hakkari. The race there was already very close, and it seems that the expatriate vote tipped the balance in the government's favour.

Also, the MHP have lost a seat after one their elected MPs was killed in a road accident while on his way to collect his seals of office. The Commission decided his seat should remain empty, rather than going to the next candidate on the MHP list.

That concludes Turkey's 16th general election. AK now have 341 seats, while the CHP has 112 and the MHP 70. Coverage of the result has been wide and varied; it takes no more than a couple of clicks to read analyses of how it has been a statement against the army, or against the secular establishment, or the end of Turkey as we know it. One particularly amusing column in the New York Post seems to think the Turkish people have willingly ushered in the Middle Ages. Fair enough - but does anyone know if I can still get a mortgage on my straw hut?

I think we've all have enough of analysis and nayesaying. It's now time to look forward. With the results confirmed, parliament will be sworn in on Saturday. Work will begin at once, and there's plenty to be done. So for those who are interested, and indeed those who are not, here's my unofficial, unadulterated take on what to expect over the next few weeks:

1. A new president
This is what triggered elections in the first place, and once parliament is sworn in and a new speaker eleted, this will be the first item on the agenda. Abdullah Gül, the AK party's candidate, has indicated he will stand again, and Deniz Baykal's CHP has reiterated they will not support him. But a repeat of April's 367 scenario seems unlikely, now that the MHP has indicated it will attend the vote.

There is, however, hope of compromise. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said he will be visiting each leader individually - including Mr Baykal - to discuss candidates. The most likely outcomes seems to be Mr Gül's election as president.

2. A new consitution
A new constitution for Turkey, crafted by civilian leaders rather than military chiefs, appeared in both AK's and the MHP's manifestos, and it seems work is underway already. It's looking interesting: a lot of AK's proposals seem to involve reducing the influence of state bodies among each other. They want to largely cut the president's powers of appointment and allow his other decrees to be answerable in court.

There are proposals to further reduce the military's influence over state affairs: the National Security Council of military chiefs, for instance, would cease to be a constitutional body, and the Supreme Military Court would be regulated by the civilian courts, not the army. There are also plans to abolish mandatory religion lessons in schools.

These are all, of course, unanounced AK proposals, and will be discussed in parliament and the media before being put to any kind of vote, but it is very much work in progress.

3. Iraq
There are very real fears, now that the election is over, that Turkish troops will be sent into northern Iraq to clear out suspected PKK positions. There have been mutterings over the last few days of a joint US-Iraqi mission in the region, but that hasn't stopped fatal bomb attacks in the southeast. Patience is wearing ever more thin.

4. An EU publicity campaign
Portugal, currently holding the European Union rotating presidency, has made it one of its principal targets to put talks with Turkey back on track. It will culminate, as it has over the last couple of years, in a summit at the end of December that will assess Turkey's progress and decide whether to plod on.

Mr Erdoğan has already said that EU-oriented reforms will continue; now, with a stable majority and several years until the next election, he has the security to sell the EU to increasingly sceptical Turkish public. But the scepticism is not restricted to these shores: the anti-Turkey lobby in the EU has found new voice in French president Nicholas Sarkozy. He has indicated he wants to use this December's summit to divert the EU's relationship with Turkey to something short of membership.

5. A tumultuous opposition
Despite his refusal to resign, Deniz Baykal's position as leader of the CHP is looking shaky. Routine leadership elections are due at a party conference in the Autumn, and the arid Mustafa Sarıgül, mayor of a district in Istanbul, has said he will stand against him. There is also a growing resistance movement led by former parliament speaker Hikmet Çetin.

But it is not just about failing leaders. The Turkish political landscape remains dangerously segregated, with entrenched splits on the left, right and centre. There will need to be some drastic restructuring if the AK party is to be challenged.


These are just a few of the items on a busy summer agenda for Turkey. The country is open for business again. That can only be good news.

13 comments:

Nihat said...

A new constitution...

I hope the methodology for this doesn't turn into a kept-secret-till-the-last-minute and you-will-all-be-pleasantly-surprised-when-we-disclose-it act of AKP. In this regard, I indeed welcome Zafer Uskul's uninhibited jolty statements. I also heard there is some (I guess, AKP-sponsored preparatory) activity going on at Bilkent University.

Wait-and-see is what we can do at this time, it appears.

Arthur said...

Hello James,

I'm a Canadian born in the UK (now working in the USA-- moving around a good bit I suppose :) ), and was wondering what you knew about the UK (or Canada and New Zealand, if you've been there) possibly facilitating Turkish work visa applications to their countries.

I ask, because Britain, Canada and also New Zealand have all cast themselves as close friends of Turkey and, in particular, strong advocates of Turkish accession to the European Union, which I strongly support myself.

What bothers me, is that there seems to be some hypocrisy on the part of all 3-- especially the UK but also Canada and New Zealand-- in that while they claim to support Turkey for the EU, all of them nonetheless have extremely restrictive and often rather insulting visa policies toward Turks who want to come to these countries, work, and also naturalize.

A close friend of mine is Turkish and has been trying for a while to get a long-term visa to the UK or to Canada; one of his cousins has been trying for Canada, and another for New Zealand. They're all very Anglophilic, educated, and generally embrace this notion of a budding Anglo-Turkish alliance.

But all have now become furious at the way they've been treated by the governments in all 3 countries, who claim to be such good friends of the Turkish people, see Turkey as an integral part of the West, and to support the options of Turks to move freely throughout the West in search of opportunities to work and contribute to the local economy.

I'm sorry, but if the UK, Canada and New Zealand all claim to be such good friends of Turkey on such a basic issue, then it's hypocritical of them to be so restrictive toward Turks who want to work there. (I've also heard of similar frustrations among Turks interested in Australia and the USA-- also claiming to be big supporters of "Turkey in the West"-- though I'm not as familiar with the state of affairs there.)

I had heard that the UK might soon be proposing to essentially open up Britain to Turkish workers and their families the same way that the UK was recently opened up to Polish workers, sort of as a goodwill gesture to the Turks and an expression of British solidarity with the Turkish cause in the midst of the still-controversial negotations.

It would, IOW, be Britain's way of saying to Turkey: "We're with you, we agree that you are now members of the West and we are going to give you the same regard as we are giving other EU members." While Canada and New Zealand aren't EU members per se, they've taken the same sort of line toward Turkey as a Western nation. I think it's a great idea, and I think that the UK, Canada and New Zealand should finally open up to Turkish workers and their families (with Australia and the USA hopefully soon following after their example).

Do you know anything about this? Is there a specific "Turkish free movement" policy in the works on 10 Downing Street (not to mention in Ottawa and Wellington)?

Alternatively, is there at the very least some kind of mobilization, grass-roots or otherwise, to support this idea in Britain and the other 2 countries, put pressure on the Brown government, provide editorials and otherwise express support for the notion of Britain actually backing up its pro-Turkish words with actions?

This would be very important to my friend and his own family members who want to go to come and contribute to our nations.

Do you know of any such actions? Or have you yourself even helped to campaign in the UK, Canada or New Zealand at any point to help ease the visa and naturalization restrictions for the Turkish people?

This is extremely important for the future of the Anglosphere's relations with Turkey and by extension with the entire, strategically crucial Near East, and I applaud you for any efforts on your part to facilitate things for Turks who want to come here. We all owe you a debt of gratitude.

James said...

Hello Arthur,

Thank you for your kind words. My parents both worked closely with the British Embassy in Ankara in their time, and the story of your friend and his cousin is one I have heard countless times during my time in Turkey.

The reason is simple: British immigration are right bastards. They're notorious for it. There have been occasional claims of "Look, we're improving" but it's simply not true. The British Embassy in Ankara has in fact stopped accepting visa applications from individuals; you now need to go through a travel agency.

I have friends who applied just the other day for a short-term tourist visa so they could visit the UK on their way to Canada, where they have student visas, and even they were asked for full details of where they would stay, why they were going and how much money they would have to support themselves while they were there.

For Canada, I know that there were no visa restrictions on Turks until about a decade ago when an entire village in the southwest decided to pack their bags and move to Ontario. A visa regime came in quite swiftly after that. Australia's got a sizeable Turkish community too - but again, as you say, restrictions rule supreme. I don't think there are even direct flights down under from Turkey.

I could go on with more countries, but I won't. You do have to understand the flipside of the coin though, because immigration is a hot issue for so many of the western countries you mention. The reality is that so many people who apply for tourist visas are actually doing so in some desperate hope for a better job and life abroad. But that means legitimate visitors get caught in the net too.

I'm not sure where you heard Britain was going to open up, but I'm afraid they're wrong. It's not going to happen. You give the example of Poland, but Britain has only opened up there because Poland is now an EU member, and even that has been controversial. Turkey's EU membership is ten years away, possibly more.

I'm sorry that his response has not been particularly helpful, but I'm afraid it's true. If your friend says he is coming to Britain "to work", he's going to get a big red stamp in his passport that stops him from applying for a British visa again.

James said...

Nihat - quite right too. The whole point of a constitution is that is is consultative, and not a last minute AK party revelation. Have you heard who is involved in the process at Bilkent?

Nihat said...

James, the Bilkent effort is reported to be headed by Prof. Ergun Ozbudun. I read about it here in Radikal online. Again in Radikal online, there is a follow-up today, which reports opposition parties' supposed positive takes on the proposal. Imo, there is not yet a proposal (just ideas), and the opposition views are not entirely positive.

Nihat said...

Interesting perspective/questions, Arthur.

Re: "a decade ago when an entire village in the southwest [Turkey] decided to pack their bags and move to Ontario."

Do you know more about their exploits in Canada? How are they doing? Did they stay together, or concentrated in one area/neighborhood? Spread out, and dissolved into the society? Do they have integration problems?

Thank you.

Arthur said...

Dear James,

Thanks so much for your valued descriptions, it only confirms what I and so many others have come to learn about our countries' hypocrisies in this regard.

It just frustrates me so much that the UK, Canada and New Zealand all feign such amity and respect for the Turkish people on the fundamental issue of the free movement of labor-- especially for industrious, Anglophilic Turks-- and yet behave in such a reprehensible manner to individual Turks themselves.

I am already beginning to see many Turks' attitudes change toward the UK and Canada at least, and definitely much for the worse. They're not stupid and they can spot such utter hypocrisy when they see it. I fear that the UK, Canada and NZ may well be squandering a historic opportunity here to cultivate a special relationship and valuable trade ties with the entire Central Asian and Near Eastern regions, for which Turkey is a vital gateway. Probably our stupidest blunder in that part of the world since Gallipoli.

FWIW, the next time I travel back to Canada (and possibly the UK though not in the near future) I will try to make my own feeble effort to advocate for a considerable loosening on these arrogant visa restrictions, and advocate on exactly the grounds you and I recognize-- you cannot pretend such friendship to a country's people on a matter like this, then turn around and slam the door in your "friends'" face.

I wonder, what do you think would be the best way to productively effect change? A media campaign? Letters to the editor? Mass petition? Specific entreaties to the British/Canadian immigration offices? Shaming them publicly for hypocrisy (sometimes works)? Finding well-connected people and getting a bill through our respective Parliaments?

I must admit I am a novice in everything related to political action and would have no idea how to proceed. But I feel that if we can expose this rank hypocrisy on the part of our governments, shame them, and at the same time emphasize the undoubted bilateral benefits of such a visa opening (or at least arrest the deteriorating relations and the crumbling image of the UK and Canada in the eyes of Turks), especially in the midst of our supposed friendship, we might be able to change things for the better.

All the best to you and your own efforts.

Nihat said...

Re: New constitution

There was another article in Radikal today: Nese Duzel interviews Prof. Ergun Ozbudun of Bilkent University. Ozbudun says, the draft is done and out of their academic hands, as of the end of last week. He defends Zafer Uskul, recommends (1) having an appropriate (non-binding?) reference to Ataturk and his fundamental progressive (cagdaslasma) philosophy, but (2) removing specific ideological references such as the 'six arrows.' Nese Duzel, interestingly, doesn't ask about the secularism/laicite principle, which is, as one of the arrows. But it comes up at the end of the interview, when she asks about Ozbudun's views on religion instruction. In his answer, Ozbudun makes it clear that he takes that to be an indispensible principle. He says, compulsory religious instruction is not not acceptable in a secular system. He adds, it could be an elective, opt-in as in the post-1961 era, or opt-out as it has become later. (I say, even opt-out is not acceptable; but that's me, and here I just want to summarize the interview.)

The interview also touches upon the presidential question. As the point has come up here before, Ozbudun points to the extraordinary powers assigned to the president by the present 1982 constitution. He leans towards cutting off these powers, making the post more symbolic as, he says, should be in a parliamentary system, and revisiting the issue of the method of electing the president afterwards. He appears to think, after such changes, election by the parliament might prove to be a better way.

Bad Tyrpist said...

He he! The New York Post (well known bastion of fair and balanced reporting and yer genyoowine journalistic values) article was funny. Did you know the guy who wrote it was also, I understand, responsible for this famous map?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Ralph_Peters_solution_to_Mideast.jpg

On the other issues, British immigration officials can certainly be rather arrogant and dismissive, but this is to everyone , not just Turks. We Brits are nothing if not fair. And we are still nicer than the Germans and the Swiss.

Arthur said...

"On the other issues, British immigration officials can certainly be rather arrogant and dismissive, but this is to everyone , not just Turks. We Brits are nothing if not fair. And we are still nicer than the Germans and the Swiss."

Well, that's what I'm demurring about, it seems that the UK immigration officials are *not* being remotely equitable in these immigration decisions. The UK is quite welcoming to Australians and even to Poles coming to Britain, yet it when comes to Turks-- whom Britain insists should have the right to free movement of workers, just as Poland has been granted-- the British turn around, huffing and puffing against them.

I'm not trying to accuse the British officials of anti-Turkish bias per se, but there is clearly a selective arrogance and shunning of groups whom the Brits claim to be befriending. I don't care much what the Germans and Swiss are doing, they've never claimed to be soil-citizenship countries to begin with, they recognize old genealogical lines (although they also have been naturalizing a surprising number of people without German/Swiss ancestry).

What's different is that the UK supposedly offers citizenship and settlement rights on other bases, especially to current or former members of the Commonwealth and the former British Empire.

This is what e.g. ethically permits some favoritism toward Australians coming to Britain, so long as the same privileges are extended to e.g. Pakistanis, Iraqis, Somalis and other countries formerly within the Empire for free movement.

It's true that Turkey was never within the British Empire, but then neither was Poland, and the opening of the UK to Polish labor was predicated on the professed right, by the British government, for the people within countries in or closely associated with the EU to migrate where they wish.

The key factor is Britain's stand toward Turkey, which is a claim of utmost friendship and support *especially* on the issue of free movement of labor. If the UK said to Turkey, "screw off, you're not within the EU and you're not like Poland," then fine, the UK would have no obligation to take a pro-Turkish stand on the issue of immigration to the UK.

But since Britain has claimed otherwise, claimed to be such a close Turkish ally and *specifically* so on the issue of the movement of Turkish labor-- in direct analogy to Poland, for example-- it's rank and disgusting hypocrisy for the UK to then turn around and stiff Turkish workers who want to come to the UK to work.

It's this double standard, this arrogant hypocrisy and this fundamental broken promise to the Turkish people-- claiming friendship on this critical issue yet stiffing the Turks instead-- that makes the British exclusionary against the Turks so repugnant and so unacceptable. That's why it must change, and not even for the UK to provide an example of "an ethical policy" to the rest of Europe or anything else so lofty.

It's just a matter of being consistent. For the UK to claim to stand by Turkey's side on the movement of labor issue, the British government must walk the walk and not just pay lip service, having its policy follow its rhetoric and admit the Turkish workers to British soil.

To be fair, it's not just the UK that has been acting so arrogantly on this-- as I said and James has confirmed, Canada and New Zealand also claim to be close allies of Turkey on the freedom-of-movement, yet take a similarly hypocritical stance on the issue of Turkish migration itself.

That's why we must undertake concerted and powerful political action to change this.

Bad Tyrpist said...

Arthur -

Australians are not really foreigners. We even share a head of state. Poles are actually in the EU rather than just applying to join.

Britain has been extremely supportive of Turkey in many respects in the years that I have been living here (Turkey). This has been on the basis of mutual interest rather than being "nice". It would be good for Britain to have Turkey in the EU because it would reduce the power of the centralising Franco-German "axis" (tastelessness entirely intentional. Britain has always been afraid of a strong centralising power in Europe. That's why we declared war against Napoleon - defending royal prerogative was an excuse.). It also provides great markets and good trade. It is also strategically important.

But don't ever make the mistake of thinking that Britain is pro Turk because it likes them! Any such "liking" is purely epiphenomenal.

Britain is a country with 25% of the land area of turkey but 75% of the population. It is crowded and bursting at the seams. It has an immigrant issue causing domestic friction at the moment. There are thousands of immigrants whom it can't stop, like the Poles, because it has a contractual oligation (EU Treaties) to accept them.

And so, I fail to see why UK should open its doors to hundreds of thousands of Turks just because it would be "nice" to do so. Those who want to go, can go. However tough it is to get a visa, those who supply the required credentials do get one. Whenever I fly to London, the plane is full of Turks.

The rudeness and arrogance, and also, it must be admitted, the low level of education and basic manners of some of the British immigration officials I have met here in Istanbul, shame me. But UK immigration policy does not. Yet.

James said...

Nihat, re: new constitution - the six arrows issue is very interesting, one that should be discussed here and in the media more once the technical issues of electing a president is out of the way. I must say I do like Professor Özbudun's idea of scrapping references the six arrows in favour of a more symbolic reference to Atatürk. But, like you say, the secularism "arrow" will have to stay in there in some way. And the things he says about statism, another arrow, are exactly why a new constitution is needed.

This is something worth writing a future entry about.

Nihat said...

James, yes, closer look at this issue is more than warranted. Actually, the Constitution, as it is, makes explicit references to secularism (along with republicanism and nationalism; AND democracy which was not among the arrows) separately from Ataturkian principles and revolutions (Ataturk ilke ve inkilaplari). It is also not fair (according to my defensive half) to think that these principles and revolutions correspond in a one-to-one fashion to the infamous 'six arrows.' I should remain very cautious about this; reducing the whole thing to 'six arrows' (and some extreme rhetoric to that effect) bring to my mind the risk of throwing the baby out with the bath water, and the fight such will likely (continue to) provoke in Turkish politics. Frankly, I don't care if the Constitution makes a reference to Ataturk's name; it'd be better if it didn't (no symbolism; but clearly spelled out articles please).