Political cracks in Turkish government deepen in nationalist’s favor

Political cracks in Turkish government deepen in nationalist’s favor
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan greets members of his ruling AKP during a meeting at the parliament in Ankara, Turkey, November 25, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 26 November 2020

Political cracks in Turkish government deepen in nationalist’s favor

Political cracks in Turkish government deepen in nationalist’s favor
  • Turkey’s judiciary, economy and other areas evidently need reforms

ANKARA: Senior Turkish officials close to the presidency have criticized decisions by the ruling AKP party amid the growing power of two breakaway parties, DEVA and Future.

On Tuesday, Bulent Arinc, Presidential High Advisory Board member and former deputy prime minister, resigned following a dispute with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan over recent remarks in which Arinc criticized the imprisonment of Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtas and prominent businessperson and dissident civil society figure Osman Kavala.

“Turkey’s judiciary, economy and other areas evidently need reforms. There is a need for our country to relax and to find a solution to our nation’s troubles. I decided that it would be more appropriate for me to leave my position as a member of the High Advisory Board,” he said on Twitter.

The move followed the resignation of Berat Albayrak, the finance minister and son-in-law of Erdogan, this time with a bombshell Instagram post on Sunday night.

In a televised interview on Nov. 20, just days after Erdogan pledged a new reform wave for Turkey’s judiciary, Arinc defended the releases of Kavala and Demirtas. His suggestion was harshly criticized by Erdogan, whose remarks “offended” Arinc.

Demirtas, former co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, was jailed in November 2016 over allegations of supporting terrorism. He faces up to 142 years in jail despite an immediate release plea by the European Court of Human Rights.

Saying that the “arrest should not be turned into a punishment,” Arinc also urged people to read Demirtas’ storybook “Devran,” authored in jail “to understand the Kurds and their suffering.”

Kavala has been imprisoned since 2017 although he was never convicted of a crime.

“Arinc will go down as another big name within the AKP being pushed aside by a more irrational guard within the party that is more interested in rousing its small but vocal army of trolls, than it is listening to criticism within the party,” Louis Fishman, a Turkey expert from Brooklyn College, told Arab News.

“For Erdogan, this move could undermine his call for judicial reforms, motivated by his wish to fix the state’s image abroad,” he added.

However, there are several rumors about cracks within the People’s Alliance, formed between the AKP and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), although MHP leader Devlet Bahceli dismissed them on Tuesday.

“Cowards, plotters and swindlers are targeting the People’s Alliance,” he said. The latest remarks by Arinc, an AKP co-founder, are said to have angered Bahceli, who flexed his muscles following the comments and pushed his ouster.

The recent operation against 101 Kurdish lawyers and activists in the southeastern province of Diyarbakir were reportedly conducted to please the alliance with the nationalistic party.

Fishman said that Arinc’s resignation will have sent a strong message to Europe and the incoming Biden administration in the US that Turkey is “not really ready” to take serious steps in judicial reform.

“The AKP is now stuck between a rock and a hard place. It’s hard to imagine that reforms can actually strengthen its weakening status, and thus it runs the risk of losing its MHP support. However, without the reforms, it also faces continued strife within the international realm. We will need to wait and see what path it takes in the near future,” he said.

Berk Esen, a political scientist from Sabanci University in Istanbul, said the ruling alliance has been hit hard by the economic crisis that recently worsened following the COVID-19 outbreak in Turkey.

“The super-presidential system, which was introduced in 2018, has only worsened Turkey’s governance record in domestic politics and the international arena. Faced with economic troubles, the government does not have sufficient resources to address growing popular unrest, especially in major urban centers,” he told Arab News.

Esen said that Joe Biden’s recent election win added to Erdogan’s fear that his government could soon come under growing international pressure.

“Therefore, he may have been compelled to take some cosmetic measures to appease Turkey’s former allies by taking half steps, such as releasing Kavala and Demirtas. This turn away from the party’s nationalist course was also arguably supported by former AKP heavyweights like Arinc,” he said.

But the honeymoon didn’t continue for too long due to backlash coming from the MHP.

In his speech to the parliamentary group on Wednesday, Erdogan said that “the ruling AK Party’s coalition with the ultranationalist MHP was drawn with blood during the July 15 coup attempt against the putschists.”

Refuting the criticism voiced by Arinc and extending an olive branch to nationalistic sensitivities, Erdogan also said “there is no longer a Kurdish question in Turkey” and “Demirtas is a terrorist whose hands are covered by blood.”

Erdogan also called on the judiciary to act against those who asked for the releases of Demirtas and Kavala, because the demands “violate the constitution’s article 138, which bans issuing orders to the courts.”

According to Esen, the political crisis has weakened Erdogan’s hold on power.

“It increased his dependence on MHP leader Bahceli, who remains a key actor in the ruling coalition and provides Erdogan with nationalist ammunition to deal with opponents,” he added.

Facing Biden, Erdogan extends olive branch to EU

Facing Biden, Erdogan extends olive branch to EU
Updated 17 January 2021

Facing Biden, Erdogan extends olive branch to EU

Facing Biden, Erdogan extends olive branch to EU
  • While Erdogan speaks of turning “a new page,” the list of European grievances is long
  • His direct military interventions in the Syrian and Libyan conflicts raised hackles in Europe

ANKARA: Facing a potentially hostile US administration, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is trying to break his isolation by mending EU relations, torn by what the bloc views as his bellicose foreign policy.
Ties between Ankara and Brussels have plunged to a nadir not seen since Turkey formally opened talks to join the bloc in 2005, a process which is now frozen.
And while Erdogan speaks of turning “a new page,” the list of European grievances is long.
Most recently, Brussels began drawing up a list of sanctions over Turkey’s hunt for natural gas in the eastern Mediterranean, which triggered a naval standoff with Greece last year.
But older suspicions simmer.
Erdogan’s direct military interventions in the Syrian and Libyan conflicts raised hackles in Europe, while his vocal backing of Azerbaijan in the six-week Nagorno-Karabakh war upset Armenia’s allies across the West.
Erdogan’s threats to send millions of Syrian and other refugees Turkey is hosting to Europe if the bloc fails to provide more funding are a constant menace.
And he has made the animosity personal by attacking French President Emmanuel Macron’s treatment of Muslims, which Europe counters by pointing to Turkey’s grim record on human rights.
Some believe this standoff is unsustainable for Erdogan.
“Ankara cannot afford an escalation with both the US and Europe, especially with an economy this fragile,” a European diplomat told AFP.

'Looking for friends anywhere'
Turkey’s heavy dependence on Europe is borne out by the numbers.
EU member states accounted for 67.2 percent of foreign direct investments in Turkey between 2002-2018, according to official data.
With foreign sentiment dented, the Turkish lira lost a fifth of its value against the dollar last year, forcing the central bank to burn through most of its reserves trying to prop up the currency.
Then Erdogan parted ways with his powerful son-in-law, who served as finance minister and bore the blame for Turkey’s economic woes.
A few days later, Erdogan first mentioned reforms and “turning a new page” in relations with Europe.
“Erdogan is looking for friends anywhere and everywhere,” said Ilke Toygur, an analyst at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, and Elcano Royal Institute.
To this end, Erdogan held a meeting on Tuesday with EU ambassadors — described as “positive” by some of those who took part — while Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu will visit Brussels on Thursday.
Macron and Erdogan have also exchanged letters that Cavusoglu said could help reboot their relations, leading to a possible video conference call.

Mounting domestic pressure
US President-elect Joe Biden’s victory over Donald Trump, who once called the Turkish leader a “good friend,” appears to be at least partially responsible for Erdogan’s shift in tone.
“Biden’s victory has reshuffled the cards. Turkey expects the next US administration will be less inclined to let it off the hook,” the European diplomat said.
Certain appointments by Biden are likely to raise hairs in Ankara, none more so than Brett McGurk’s naming to the National Security Council, where he will oversee the Middle East and Africa.
McGurk has been an outspoken critic of Turkey’s policy on Syria, where the US supports a Kurdish militia that Ankara blames for attacks on its soil, and will play an important role in shaping Washington’s relations with Erdogan.
“This seeming call for a rapprochement with the EU can be interpreted as preparation” for Biden, said Sinem Adar, an associate at the Center for Applied Turkey Studies in Berlin.
Erdogan was once part of a select group of leaders who could dial up Trump directly on the phone, but Adar said the loss of this privilege with Biden is not the only factor behind the attempted rapprochement.
He faces “mounting domestic pressure due to economic woes accentuated by Covid-19” and a “decreasing vote share” for his ruling party and its nationalist junior partners, Adar said.

Demonstration of goodwill sought
Erdogan could demonstrate his goodwill by easing the pressure on his political opponents, some of whom are facing high-profile trials.
“For any signal from Ankara to mend relations with the EU to be perceived credible by the union, Ankara is expected to shift gears” on the rule of law and human rights as well as Turkey’s confrontational foreign policy, Adar told AFP.
Analyst Toygur said she did not think any specific action could provide a “demonstration of goodwill” from Erodgan.
But she said the sides could find points of contact on managing illegal migration, since it is “an issue of utmost importance for the stability of the EU.”
Ankara is also hoping to update the sides’ Customs Union, although Toygur said the bloc was likely to be “more demanding” on this front.
But while Europe wants to avoid further strains with Turkey, Western diplomats point to a low appetite for a rapprochement in some EU corners.
“Turkey’s charm offensive has left many European countries skeptical,” the European diplomat said.