We have moved / Taşındık!

If you're reading this, you've come to the old home for the James in Turkey website. The website has changed servers and adopted a new look ahead of the 2014 local election.

For the latest Turkish politics and election analysis from Michael Daventry redirect your bookmarks to jamesinturkey.com.

Friday, 1 November 2013

We have moved / Taşındık!

If you're reading this, you've come to the old home for the James in Turkey website.

The website has changed servers and adopted a new look ahead of the 2014 local election.

For the latest Turkish politics and election analysis from Michael Daventry redirect your bookmarks to jamesinturkey.com.

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Friday, 6 September 2013

Turkey does not deserve the Olympic Games

After a disgraceful summer for Turkish democracy, the government does not deserve an Olympic prize.

On four previous occasions Turkey has tried and failed to bring the Summer Olympics to its largest city. It did not even make the shortlist for the 2012 event, its most recent attempt. The 2020 Games, the host of which will be decided by members of the International Olympic Committee this weekend, could prove different. This could be Istanbul’s year.

The Istanbul candidacy has been a strong one since it was announced two years ago. Bid leader Hasan Arat has been active and enthusiastic: just yesterday, he made a point of invoking the potential of the country’s youth, which is the kind of thing that always goes down well with the IOC. This morning it won the support of The (London) Times, which crooned in an editorial about the “sheer symbolism” of an intercontinental Olympic marathon across the Bosphorus Bridge. It is significant, the paper said, that no Games have ever been held in a Muslim country.


But this author dispenses with symbolism and believes that when IOC members assemble in Buenos Aires at 9.45pm Turkish time on Saturday, they should vote for Madrid or Tokyo.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Lessons from the past: Turkey's parliament could veto Syria action too

“Speaking after the government’s motion [in support of military action] was defeated, the prime minister said: ‘It is not right for us to make this a matter of domestic politics. The democratic process has worked. We will follow developments and do what is necessary.’ He added that despite the narrow margin of defeat, he did not look warmly upon asking parliament to vote again.”

As parliaments around the world debate whether or not to bomb Syria, we have become accustomed to stories like the above in the press. But the prime minister in this quotation is not Britain’s David Cameron or Jordan’s Abdullah Ensour, but Abdullah Gül of Turkey.

On 1 March 2003, Turkish MPs voted on a government motion that would add their country to the growing number of coalition countries preparing to invade Iraq. The motion – the product of a deal between President George W Bush and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who had not quite yet become prime minister – allowed for foreign (read: American) troops to be stationed on Turkish soil and foreign aircraft (ditto) to use Turkish bases as part of preparations to invade Iraq from the north. The Bush administration had sweetened the deal with a promise of $6 billion in financial aid.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Would a CHP-MHP alliance work?

It is two months since the first Gezi Park protests broke out. This morning's Cumhuriyet recounts the casualties: five dead, eleven blinded, 106 with head traumas and 63 people seriously injured. Although the protests continue, notably in Antakya last week, there is no doubting the protests have died down.

It is quite clear that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his governing AK party have embraced what The Economist astutely described as "democratic majoritarianism", the view that electoral might always makes you right. Three consecutive terms, a 50% victory at the last election and an opinion poll lead that was curbed but not shaken by the Gezi Park incidents all point to the government's enduring legitimacy, AK supporters say.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

CHP surges in first post-protest opinion poll

One way of assessing the political implications of the unrest in Turkey, which has entered its fifteenth day, is to look at what opinion polling has to say. Politicians, reporters and foreign observers alike are all keen to know how the events have affected how the country intends to vote.

We may now have the results of the first serious attempt at polling in the last two weeks. They show a significant narrowing of the gap between the governing AK party and the opposition CHP.

The headline figure (with changes from Gezici's last poll in May) is AKP 38.5% (-3.2), CHP 31.8 (+3.6), MHP 18.5 (-1), BDP 8.2 (-0.9).

The result is the strongest CHP showing that I've seen since just after current leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu's election in May 2010. Consider this graph:

Friday, 7 June 2013

Erdoğan's hidden safety net

There's plenty of speculation out there on the implications of the last eleven days for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's political future. The Economist called this week for him to step down next year and make way for President Abdullah Gül. Ben Judah argued in the Financial Times that the prime minister needed to see this as his "1968 de Gaulle moment". Others have said any Erdoğan departure would lead to the immediate implosion of his Justice and Development (AK) party and the splintering of his centre-right/conservative/moderately Islamic coalition.

Perhaps. I will freely admit I am not in a position to guess what will happen next. No-one is, really. Right now, events on the ground feel a little like a swinging pendulum: first there was the calm when the police withdrew from Taksim, then there were the clashes in Beşiktaş. We then had the widely-publicised apology from deputy prime minister Bülent Arınç, but the pendulum swung back after we saw a greater police crackdown in Ankara

Saturday, 1 June 2013

From street battle to street party

I have to admit I felt just a little awkward. Four-wheeled cabin baggage would not have been my apparel of choice while walking into a riot zone, but I had no choice.

I am in Istanbul this weekend to attend the wedding of an old friend. My hotel, booked weeks ago, is a small place in the backstreets of Şişli, just a few streets away from a certain Gezi Park. It's normally a two minute walk from Taksim's metro station; today, I had to find my way on foot from Mecidiyeköy, several kilometres away, as passers-by warned me there was tear gas about.

What follows is an account of what I saw.

Friday, 31 May 2013

Erdoğan's Thatcher moment?

It is hard not to be appalled by the scenes coming out of Taksim's Gezi Park, where police have swept in yet again to try and evict demonstrators protesting the park's demolition to make way for a shopping centre.

Police have used pepper spray and water cannon and batons to break the groups up. People wearing gasmasks – strongly suspected to be plainclothes officers – have been pictured setting fire to the demonstrators' tents. Dozens have been arrested, many others injured. The tear gas is so pungent and pervasive that Istanbul metro services into Taksim have had to be cancelled. And yet a further wave of protests is planned, meeting in Taksim at 7pm this evening.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Defining 'Turk': a constitutional barrier overcome?

Reverse psychology can be a wonderful thing. Just at Turkey's prime minister again cast doubt on his country ever having a new, cross-party constitution, the commission charged with writing that document appears to have accelerated its work.

Ahmet Türk
It was on Sunday that Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told reporters following him on his trip in the United States that he was "losing hope" over the constitution-writing process. He continued:

"If there is no solution, we will follow our Plan C and use our own [draft constitution] template. We have 326 MPs and, as you know, it will be a secret ballot, so perhaps a few brave souls will emerge despite their own party's pressure. If we can get the numbers, we will take it to a referendum."

The said parliamentary commission is made up of twelve MPs, three each from the governing AK Party and opposition Republican People's (CHP), Nationalist Movement (MHP) and Peace and Democracy (BDP) parties, and chaired by the speaker, AK Party MP Cemil Çiçek.

The prime minister’s Plan C refers to oft-repeated AK Party threats to team up with the pro-Kurdish BDP and other opposition rebels to reach the magic 367 number, a two-thirds seat majority, which would allow the government to change the constitution unilaterally.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Fazıl Say, Emre Bukağılı and an unending conflict in Turkish society

Fazıl Say Emre Bukağılı
Another artist was persecuted for offending Turkey's nouveau establishment this week when the pianist Fazıl Say was handed an eight month prison sentence for comments he made on Twitter. His tweets from last April, long since removed from his @FazilSayOfficial account, were deemed to be blasphemous and offensive to the country's Muslim population. 

Among the offending tweets was one posted on 5 April 2012 that read: "This muezzin finished the evening call to prayer in 22 seconds. Prestissimmo con fuoco! What's the hurry? A woman? A rakı drinking table?" In other tweets he quoted preachings on the afterlife attributed to an 11th century Islamic theologian and commented: "is heaven a brothel?" Tashlik has a good summary (scroll down for English) of the tweets.

Fazıl Say is a vocal critic of the government, which helped to attract extensive coverage of the outcome to his trial in Turkey and abroad. There are three observations that can be drawn from his conviction.

Sunday, 31 March 2013

More than a quarter of Turkish voters are undecided

The latest regular Konsensus survey for Haberturk might not appear to throw up any voting intention surprises on first glance. AK Party holds its a clear lead (36.8%) with the CHP losing support (17.5%) and the MHP keeping firm (11.1%). The BDP trails on 3.6%, other parties were 3.5%.

On a uniform swing projection, that would give the AK Party 317 seats (down ten from the 2011 election), the CHP 137 (up two) and the MHP 61 (up eight). That would be a healthy AK majority.

The figures I quote above are based on voters who said they definitely would vote. A huge number did not support any party: 12.3% of those polled told Konsensus that they had not made their mind. A further 5.6% said they would not vote or would spoil their ballot, while 9.6% refused to answer the question.

That's 27.5%, more than a quarter of the sample, representing a huge portion of the Turkish electorate that is waiting to be convinced.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Turkey and Israel: the ambiguous peace

What a difference even an unpopular US president can make.

Israel's prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu made his first phone call in four years to his Turkish counterpart this afternoon. During the 30 minute conversation, he apologised for Israel's role in Mavi Marmara incident and agreed to discuss compensation for the families of the nine Turkish victims.

Both sides are to send their ambassadors back at once, reports suggest, a move which would restore full diplomatic relations. Mr Netanyahu also made a number of overtures on the entry of civilian goods into Palestinian territories, an issue about which Mr Erdoğan has been vocal. Barack Obama’s role in making the phone call happen appears to be pivotal.

As always with these things, the precise language is important. Israeli national security advisor Yaakov Amidror and Feridun Sinirlioğlu, who as undersecretary is essentially the man to know at Turkey's foreign ministry, had met in Rome recently to thrash out a form of words both sides could agree upon - but they failed. The task clearly fell above their pay grades.

So it is curious that the precise terms of this apology are somewhat ambiguous.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

The first step of the peace process: a PKK ceasefire

What happened this morning is quite extraordinary.

The imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), Abdullah Öcalan, released a message calling for peace in southeast Turkey.

Tens of thousands of people turned out in Diyarbakır to hear it.

The message, to mark the Kurdish new year of Nowruz, was read out in Kurdish and Turkish.

The PKK leader called for his organisation's armed militants to retreat across the border back into northern Iraq. He did not ask them to disarm. 

Erdoğan on anti-Semitism: is this really an apology?

As Barack Obama tours Israel and the Palestinian territories, Turkish media has seized on Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s remarks during his concurrent visit to Denmark.

“Erdoğan clarifies his comments on Zionism”, Milliyet reported yesterday, quoting comments the prime minister made to the Danish daily Politiken. What he actually did was clarify his views on Israel and Palestine – views that we already knew.

Politiken put it to Mr Erdoğan that his remarks last month were understood by some to question the very legitimacy of Israel’s existence and asked whether this was correct.

The prime minister responded, amply, with Turkey’s official line: he is critical of Israeli policy and the current government, not the state of Israel. He supports a two-state solution. He frequently condemns anti-Semitism.

The crucial sentence is his final one: “In this context, I stand behind my remarks in Vienna.”

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Erdoğan passes Menderes’s record, becomes third-longest serving prime minister

Cumulative days served as of 19 March 2013
Today Recep Tayyip Erdoğan marks his 3,658th day as Turkey’s prime minister, equalling Adnan Menderes’s record. Tomorrow, he assumes Menderes’s spot as Turkey’s third-longest serving prime minister. If he is still in post on Wednesday 14 August 2013, which is likely, Mr Erdoğan will rise to number two.

This is a week for milestones in the incumbent prime minister’s career. Last Thursday he marked ten years since assuming the premiership after winning the Siirt by-election and becoming an MP for the first time.

Adnan Menderes led Turkey’s first opposition party to be elected to office, the Democrat Party. He became prime minister in 1950, leading his party into three successive elections until he was toppled in a coup on 27 May 1960, his own 3,658th day. He was subsequently tried and hanged by the new regime.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Safe or stuffed? Who falls foul of AK's three term rule

If you look at article 132 of the by-laws that govern Turkey's ruling AK Party, you will find a clause that is sensible and democratic. It imposes a strict three term limit on MPs and mayors, presumably to ensure youth and vigour and prevent cults of personality among the party's ranks.

The article reads:
Article 132: Repeat candidacy of elected party candidates

Mayors and members of parliament who become a candidate from an AK Party list and are subsequently elected can be a candidate for a maximum three terms.
But this was written when the party was established, before its 2002 election victory that surprised everyone, including the founders, and well before the 2007 and 2011 elections, where the victories were even greater.

Party leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has come to adopt a looser interpretation of article 132. The three term limit remains, he says, but it's perfectly possible to take a break for one term and then return. It is also possible for third term MPs to go off and spend a term as mayor of Istanbul, for example, and then return to parliament afterwards.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Gezici poll shows slight drop in AKP support

A new general election opinion poll from Gezici Araştırma appeared in Vatan on Wednesday. The headline figures with changes from their last survey in January are AKP 43.0 (-2.7), CHP 28.0 (+1.1), MHP 18.2 (+0.3), BDP 8.1 (+2.6).

I haven't seen full tables of the research, but Vatan's commentary suggests the AK Party lost most of its support in western and central regions, where as the CHP and MHP. The fieldwork was done over the weekend of 23-24 February, which would place it at a time when negotiations with PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan was prominent in news coverage.

Gezici have been showing a shallow downward trend in the governing AK Party's support since November. The main beneficiary has been the CHP, shown as up by nearly two percentage points over the last three months.

A uniform swing projection of Gezici's polling result based on the results obtained in each electoral district at the last election would produce a Grand National Assembly that looks like this:

That's a healthy AK majority of 40 seats - so no real change to the shape of power.

Gezici also polled voting intention for next year's local elections (changes from January): AKP 38.6 (-1.2), CHP 28.6 (-0.9), MHP 19.8 (+1.4), BDP 7.6 (+1.1). It suggests trouble is afoot for AK Party councils, but national results based on local election questions will invariably be affected by where in the country people were polled.

Friday, 1 March 2013

What is a Turk? Which 1924 definition does Gül want?

The most heated debate over Turkey’s new constitution is over what to call its citizens. Today, if you hold a Republic of Turkey passport you are officially a Turk. No other identity carries official recognition. That might be okay if you consider yourself an ethnic Turk, but what if you are a Kurd? Or a Circassian? Or an Armenian?

One view, increasingly common these days, is that the “Turk” label should be an umbrella identity under which “ethnic sub-identities” like Kurds, Circassians and indeed ethnic Turks could fall. There are some – the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) support this line – that the umbrella identity should be called Türkiyeli (literally: “of Turkey”), a term hitherto mostly used by Turkish Cypriots to distinguish themselves from mainlanders. But there are others, like Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), who reject the umbrella identity entirely: to them, everyone is a Turk, plain and simple.

Erdoğan on Zionism

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has never been the darling of the Jewish community, but his latest comments at a UN meeting in Vienna on Wednesday will not help his reputation. He is reported as saying:

"Just like Zionism, just like anti-Semitism, just like fascism, it has become unavoidable that Islamophobia is considered a crime against humanity."             

The prime minister’s use of Zionism in a list of crimes against humanity has drawn condemnation from Israel and criticism from the United States. The translation above – which you will notice differs slightly from the one used by Reuters here – is my own based on the Turkish words quoted by the BBC.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Erdoğan on British press freedom

When a foreign leader descends on the Turkish capital for a working visit, the journalists from that country invariably use the leaders’ joint press conference to ask about Turkey’s record on freedom of expression.

“You have more journalists are in prison than China,” is the standard line of attack. “Shouldn’t you do something about that?”

Today, it was Angela Merkel and Germany’s turn to receive Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s stock answer.

Talking to the prisoner

Never before has Turkey been so far down the road towards peace with its Kurdish minority.

In themselves, negotiations are nothing new. They have been held on-and-off and in secret for years – most recently brokered by the Norwegians. The preliminary objective is, as it has always been, to stop the fighting between the Turkish army and members of the PKK. Of course, these talks have produced ceasefires before; all eventually fell through.

This time might just be different. The Turkish government is talking not only to the PKK leadership in the Iraqi-Turkish mountains, but to the organisation’s number one himself, Abdullah Öcalan. And, for the first time, it is openly admitting doing so. This is the so-called “İmralı process”, named after the prison island on which the PKK leader is kept.

Let’s be plain about what it involves: Turkey is in peace talks with the man it sentenced to death thirteen years ago.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Turkey's next election: the CHP's challenge

Here’s a prediction that won’t astonish anyone: the CHP will not win Turkey’s next general election in two years’ time.

A victory for the main opposition party is a monumentally difficult thing to achieve not just because of the party’s current leadership woes, but because the governing AK Party has a solid hold on power.

A Metropoll survey at the end of December, which showed a near-uniform swing in support away from the three main parties, reported a full 25 per cent of voters saying

Thursday, 14 February 2013

The Turkey or the egg?

Consider, if you will, the curious case of Turkey’s ambiguous name. It can mean one of two things. The first is a parliamentary democracy of 75 million squeezed onto the Anatolian peninsula and home to one of the largest cities in the world. The other is a large bird that American presidents have a penchant for pardoning every year.
Neither makes a decent bottle of wine – but beyond that, they have few things in common.  The bird is not indigenous to the country. In the country’s main language, the bird is named after another country -  India. You cannot seriously confuse the two.

But some people in Turkey see clarity as an opportunity for bewilderment: there is a campaign, growing in voice, for the country to adopt Türkiye as its English name.

Thursday, 31 January 2013

Who wants to be Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu?

It all began when Birgül Ayman Güler, an two-year Izmir MP for the Republican People’s Party (CHP), lost her temper during a parliamentary debate last Wednesday.
In an extraordinarily angry rant, Ms Güler attacked the governing AK Party and the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) for she called a racial discrimination against Turks as a race.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

There is still hope for a Kurdish peace

The news that three Kurdish women, including a co-founder of the PKK, were found shot dead in a Parisian Kurdish centre, has stolen headlines in Turkey and across the world.

As with all attacks of this kind, there is plenty that is not yet known. We do not know who carried out the shooting or why they did it. French police have launched an investigation. We can only speculate over whether it is connected to events in Turkey: it emerged recently that the government has been holding talks in secret with

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Sarıgül's fight

On Friday morning Mustafa Sarıgül, darling of the non-CHP Turkish left, braved the cold Ankara weather to hand in a personal submission to the Constitutional Court. He was objecting to a new law that shakes up some parts of local government in Turkey - in particular, the bit of the law that strips Istanbul's Şişli district, where he is mayor, of its richest neighbourhoods.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Back to where we started

These are the elections Turkey must hold in the next thirty-six months:

  • March 2014: local elections (most likely on the 30th, the final Sunday);
  • August 2014: presidential election (31 August most likely for first round, with the second, if required, to follow a fortnight later);
  • June 2015: parliamentary election (14 June most likely).

If the glacial work of a 16-member parliamentary committee charged with writing the country's new constitution ever bears fruit, there will be a referendum to vote on that as well. But the committee was due to report back at the end of 2012 and, well, it hasn't, so it's perhaps not worth holding your breath.

While that work continues, the political chattering classes are speculating over electoral scenarios: can the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) score a high profile win against the governing AK Party by, say, winning control of the Istanbul mayoralty? Is it even possible to weaken the AK Party's punctilious grip on power?

In 2009, the CHP came close to wresting Istanbul away from AK, following a slick campaign led by its candidate, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. The difference btween the two parties came to 7.5 percentage points, far narrower than any recent national result, and allowed Mr Kılıçdaroğlu to become the only credible contender for the national party's leadership later that year.

The party now needs a new candidate for Istanbul and the most obvious name is Mustafa Sarıgül, the maverick mayor of the city’s Şişli district and easily the country’s most recognisable local politician. The rumour is that Kadir Topbaş, the current AK mayor, is being lined up for a role in national politics. Up against a fresh-faced AK candidate, Mr Sarıgül could become Istanbul’s first left-wing mayor in 25 years.

For an assessment of the second question, that of the AK Party’s seemingly unending hold on elected office, kindly consider the rough chart below.

The above shows the June 2011 election result (on the far left) followed by quarterly averages of voting intention data from Genar, Konsensus, MetroPoll, Pollmark and Sonar.

Any half-decent pollster will tell you that a trend of similar results is more valuable than a single, potential outlier result in gauging the public mood. In that vein, it is worth ignoring the specific numbers indicated above and looking just at the gradients.

There are two recent trends are immediately noticeable:

1) After a bump early last year, AK Party support has declined to just below its record 2011 election result;
2) CHP support has shown an increase, but not one proportional to AK’s decline.

Importantly, this chart does not tell us how many Turkish people plan to vote, but don’t know who for. The figures are compiled from the polling companies’ headline results and it is standard Turkish practice to distribute undecided voters among the other parties proportionately. (*)

Bearing this in mind, what does this poll of polls suggest? That we are back to where we were in June 2011: the two polls conducted at the end of last year, if reflected in an election, would deliver a healthy AK majority above 300 seats, a 120-strong CHP opposition and a small Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) contingent of around 50.

So the AK Party juggernaut rolls forward. But how to boot it from government altogether, or at least reduce its majority and force it into a coalition?

There are two main schools of thought on this.

The first centres on the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The AK Party is built around his personality, the argument goes, and risks fragmentation or utter collapse once he steps down. The second is even simpler: the AK Party occupies the Turkish centre ground and other parties need to dislodge it to win power.

But waiting for Mr Erdoğan to go and seizing upon a power vacuum is a risky game. Far better for AK’s opponents to invest in the second approach.

The trouble is, whatever the opposition’s strategy might be, the polling averages show that it is not working.

* For more on what is standard practice and what is not in Turkish polling, read my post from June last year and Christy Quirk’s comment in particular.