Monday, September 13, 2010

Islamists Tighten Their Grip on Turkey as Erdogan Extends Powers Over Courts and Army

From Bloomberg, September 12, 2010, by Benjamin Harvey and Steve Bryant*:

Sept. 13 (Bloomberg) -- Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan won a referendum on constitutional changes that will strengthen his government’s powers over the courts and army, boosting his prospects of re-election next year.

The package was supported by 58 percent of voters to 42 percent against, with a 78 percent turnout in yesterday’s vote, state broadcaster TRT said citing official figures from the country’s election board. ...
The referendum was widely viewed as a preview of Erdogan’s chances of winning a third term in office at general elections to be held by July. The “yes” vote will bolster a government that has presided over record economic growth even as critics accuse it of seeking to undermine Turkey’s secular system.

Generals and judges who see themselves as the last line of defense against encroaching Islamism, and have frequently clashed with the prime minister since his party came to power in 2002, will have their powers curtailed under the amendments.

The strong win “indicates the prospects of a third term look solid,” and shows that Erdogan’s “political machine” is “far superior to any of its competitors,” said Wolfango Piccoli, an analyst of political risk at the Eurasia Group in London.

Speaking to supporters in Istanbul, Erdogan welcomed the “yes” vote and said he will work on a complete overhaul of Turkey’s constitution, drafted in 1982 when the country was under military rule, after next year’s elections.

...Opposition politicians campaigned against the measures, saying they undermine the separation of powers and would hand Erdogan too much power....
...The amendments ...[will allow] members of the armed forces to be tried in civilian rather than military courts for crimes against the state...

The amendments also restructure the judiciary, giving the government more control over appointments to the Supreme Board of Prosecutors and Judges and the Constitutional Court. The Constitutional Court, which has frequently clashed with Erdogan and struck down measures passed by his lawmakers, will be expanded to 17 members from 11, with 14 appointed by the president and the other three by parliament.

Critics including the opposition Republic People’s Party and Nationalist Action Party say the amendments allow Erdogan to enact what they say is his hidden Islamist agenda...

*With assistance from Seda Sezer in Istanbul. Editors: Ben Holland, Louis Meixler.

From Aljazeera, 12 Sep 2010: Turkish analysts discuss their views on the referendum:

...Al Jazeera spoke to several analysts to get their thoughts on the vote.

Cengiz Aktar, Turkish columnist and journalist
..."There is no unity among the 26 articles unfortunately, and the referendum has turned into a referendum on the AKP [Erdogan's party]. But this is how things happen in this country.

"Now we are heading towards an election next year and if the vote is a 'yes' vote, the hand of the government will be strengthened for a brand new constitution in Turkey."

Semih Idiz, columnist at Turkey's Milliyet newspaper
"There are really only two articles that are controversial. Even the opposition in the past has said it will endorse the remaining articles.

"These two articles are to do with the composition of the high judiciary. The government is basically trying to introduce a system where there can be more parliamentary and effectively government control over the judiciary.

"The hardcore secular camp in Turkey are objecting to this very severely because it believes that this will open a back door to an Islamic agenda for the government in the future.

"So, the lines are pretty well drawn here and they are not really discussing the merits of the article in questions. In fact, they are discussing ideological things.

"The stakes are high for both sides. In fact, we can say for three sides - the Kurdish side as well.

"...there is, what I call, the post-modern civil war between the secularists and the 'Islamists' in this country....

Cuneyt Ulsever, columnist at Turkey's Hurriyet newspaper
"There are two amendments that directly talk about judiciary, with an accusation that the judiciary had been too independent and made another coalition in the country and done many injuries to the political system. This is the allegation of the government.

"The problem is, if the amendments are accepted as proposed by the government, 10 out of 17 members of the constitutional court will be decided directly by the government people."

"The minister of justice and his aides will be the chief of [the] council that will decide about the judges."

"I would say that, yes, the judiciary has done many wrongs in the past, but with this new amendment it is quite possible that the government will directly be the leader and the owner of the judiciary."

"The root of democracy, the separation of powers, will be completely voided."

"As is it today, we will see a more authoritarian prime minister than ever. Our prime minister is already a very authoritarian personality and now he will have all powers in his hands."
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