Turkish Voter Reigns

in Riyadh Supported Islamists

Constitution Meddling Would Challenge the Military 

“We have spoken, and now it is time for the people to speak,” PM Erdogan. People have; against fundamental changes in the Constitution.

Economist Magazine, London, "The best way for Turks to promote democracy would be to vote against the ruling party." “Erdogan's victories over the army and judiciary have given him too much power and would now allow him to "indulge his natural intolerance of criticism" and feed his "autocratic instincts," it warned.

“There is much to admire, internally and internationally, about the new Turkey. But peaceful revolutions can overreach themselves too, and it is vital that Turkish society is able to place some limits around Mr. Erdogan's formidable ambitions — imperious ways, which include the jailing of journalists and a punitive approach to media organization with the temerity to criticize him,” The Guardian. 

“In Turkey no PM can keep his reign for more than a decade“, Adnan Menderes (prime minister from 1950 to 1960), who was hanged in 1961 by the junta after the first coup d’état.

2011 Election Results

Of over 50 million eligible voters in Turkey's population of 73 million, 84.5% cast the vote on 12 June. With 99% votes counted the ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) would get around 50% of votes but with likely 326 seats (in a house of 550) will not be able to even put amendments for referendum except with support from the opposition. AK Phad won 341 seats in 2007 with 4% less votes and two-thirds majority, 365 with only 35% votes in November 2002 elections, when it burst on the political scene, stunning everyone including itself. The party will form a government on its own a 3rd time running, while after the 1980 military coup ,almost all earlier ones were coalition governments.

Unless a party gets 10% votes, it cannot get a seat in the Grand National Assembly. This high threshold has been passed to keep out Kurdish parties. In 2002, nearly 49% of votes went waste. The 10% threshold creates piquant situations. It has kept out two major parties formed by Suleyman Demiral and late Turgut Ozal both prime ministers and then presidents. 

The main opposition Peoples Republican party (RPP) with 26% of votes will get 135 seats, 23 seats more than last time. RPP, established by the founder of the republic Kemal Ataturk had last won maximum seats in 1973, 185 seats out of 450, and headed a coalition under late PM Bulent Ecevit.  The extreme nationalist National Movement Party (MHP) won 54 with 13% votes, but lost 17seats.

To overcome 10% high threshold, Kurds fight elections as independents and have won 36 seats with 6.6% votes. They will join the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), a Kurdish party, which had endorsed them. They can form a parliamentary group, the quorum being 20 deputies. Officials accuse BDP of links to the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).  

The new Parliament will have 78 women deputies, the highest ever, compared to 50 in the last one. One of them is Leyla Zana, a Kurdish icon, many times imprisoned but defiant.

“The people have won-- will make a liberal constitution altogether,” Erdogan. 

A chastened Erdogan, AKP’s driving and dividing force conceded that “The people have won.” "We will embrace everyone, whether they voted for the AKP or not," he added in a speech at his party's headquarters late Sunday.  “I say that if the main opposition and other opposition parties approve, we will sit and talk, and we will have dialogue with the political parties outside the Parliament, non-governmental organizations and associations. We will make a liberal constitution altogether. The east, the west, the north and the south will find themselves in this constitution.” 

“This new constitution will be addressed to every single individual in Turkey. In the new constitution, every citizen will be “the first.”  This constitution will focus on peace. This constitution will be the constitution of the Kurd, of Turkmen people, of Alevis, of all minorities, which means all 74 million people. This constitution will be for fraternity, for sharing, for unity and solidarity.” 

RPP leader Kemal Kiliçdaroglu said late Sunday that the party has come out stronger from the election as a result of opposing Erdogan’s plans for changing the Constitution. He said the party gained 3.5 million new voters in six months, and the highest percentage of votes since the Sept. 12, 1980 coup.  RPP protects minorities like the Shia Alevis, almost 10% of the population, mostly those who came as conquerors from central Asia. 

Kurds have greater faith in RPP than in NMP and AKP. "The Kurdish issue is the No. 1 problem in our attempt to become more democratic," said a graphic designer in Istanbul. "Having this problem and talking about democracy is absurd." Kurds remain dissatisfied. PKK rebellion organized by Abdulla Ocalan, now in prison for life since 1999, has cost nearly 40,000 lives including 5000 soldiers and creating problems across the board. 

Till mid-1980s, Kurds had to call themselves Mountain Turks. Kurds cannot organize education and media in Kurdish language freely. During WWI the British occupied oil rich Kirkuk in Kurdish north Iraq after a ceasefire and instigated rebellions in Turkey’s Kurdish south east. It forced Ataturk to disenfranchise Kurds, a people who have inhabited the region straddling Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria and total around 25 million, much before the arrival of the Turks into Anatolia. 

The author first visited south east Turkey and Diyarbakir, biggest Kurdish city first time in 1969 and was greeted by young boys singing Kurdish songs. He then made many visits, the last visit to Diyarbakir and the region was in 1997, when the rebellion was in full play.

"I'm a military officer and I'm driving this taxi on weekends," said Ahmet Zorlu, when asked about his voting priorities. "That's enough of an answer." This sums up the views of the opposition to AKP and its policies by secular elite which includes the judiciary, the military and the intelligencia in the media and the academia.  

Fifty seven year old Erdogan was born in Rize on the Black Sea coast, but grew up in lower middle class Istanbul. On the international stage, he often cuts an awkward, slightly defensive figure -tall, but stiff and unsmiling; at home, he comes alive, responding with jokes, sarcasm and even poetry to the crowds of supporters who throng his rallies. Turks in the teeming cities or small Anatolian towns love his combative charisma. Now that Turkey does not need Israel as an ally, his willingness to condemn Israel over its treatment of the Palestinians (who during Ottoman days were faithful subjects) has not only strengthened his Islamic base, but also made him a hugely popular leader among masses in the Middle East.

AKP’s opponents are worried about Erdogan's cult of personality and ambitions which has turned into hubris that threatens the very democracy his party strengthened when it came to power in late 2002.  All are uneasy about Erdogan’s plans to transform Turkey's political system from a European parliamentary model to a US style presidential system with a strong executive branch, under him.

Turkey, currently the 17th economy in the world (and which aspires to be one of the top10), has an 8.9% growth rate, making the Turkish economy the most dynamic among European countries. It’s no wonder Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu claimed in a television interview that “Turkey is like a giant which has woken up.” But 17% of Turkish population lives below the poverty line, and unemployment is around 12%. But this is still much lower than in Europe and no financial institution has gone bankrupt in the last decade in Turkey. 

In a public-opinion poll before the elections it appeared that the most worrisome element in the Turks’ daily life is neither PKK terrorism nor the EU harmonization, but poverty and unemployment.

While the economy appears to be a grand success, with GDP per head more than doubling during AK’s time in office, Mehmet Simsek, the finance minister, concedes that the economy shrank sharply in the recession of 2009. But it bounced back last year. As for the risk of overheating, Simsek admits that the economy is “very hot”, but insists that it is now cooling fast. The economy has serious weaknesses. A splurge of consumer spending combined with a big inflow of foreign capital has widened the current-account deficit to a gaping 8% of GDP. Were the foreign money (from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf) suddenly to dry up, Turkey could easily find itself heading into a bust once again. Fiscal policy should have been tightened more and sooner. 

The Economist had criticized Erdogan and AKP party for its “authoritarian” tendencies before the elections after a polarizing campaign. In its last Thursday's article, entitled "Turkey's bitter elections," The Economist drew attention to Erdogan's proposals to change "the ministry for women" into “the ministry for family and social policies," along with seven other Cabinet jobs. 

"It is now official: women should have babies and stay at home," the magazine quoted Turkish feminists as saying in response to Erdogan’s statements earlier that week. The magazine also noted that this conservative move "set off alarm bells among those who recall the AKP government's previous efforts to criminalize adultery and Mr. Erdogan's calls for women to have at least three children." Erdogan also attempted to introduce "alcohol-free zones" and control sale of liquor.

Economist is not my favourite read as it echoes Washington line in better English. The author has lampooned its writes on so called Rose Revolution in Georgia i.e. US franchised street revolutions for regime changes and on other matters. But this time around it had a point.

Erdogan was tried for utterances, "Minarets are our bayonets, domes are our helmets, mosques are our barracks, believers are our soldiers," convicted and jailed for 4 months. He had also said "Thank God, I am for Shariah." "For us, democracy is a means to an end." (Shades of Islamic Salvation Front in Algeria) and, "One cannot be a secularist and a Muslim at the same time." So his drive and passion makes people uneasy and scared.

Yesil Surmaye aka Green Money from Saudi Arabia 

But why is the corporate Western media silent and not exposing the Yesil Surmayeaka green money from Saudi Arabia, poured into Turkey in direct massive gifts from mid 1990s and as investment in central Anatolia, stronghold of the AKP, from where its leadership originates, in towns like Konya (Iconium) of whirling dervishes and Kayseri (Caesarea Mazaca).

The author was desk officer in External affairs dealing with Turkey from 1967 before serving as  first secretary /CDA (1969-73 ) and then as ambassador ( 1992-96 ) and finally as freelance journalist (1996-98). He was selected for Ankara in 1988 but his posting was cancelled after agreement by a feudal minded Jat minister, who hated Rajputs and misled late Rajiv Gandhi. (Watch this space for more).

During 1990s I used to be surprised by the prosperity in these barren harsh lands brought about by Saudi gifts and investment. I came to know President Abdullah Gul, a sober balanced politician compared to Erdogan. 

“There was this young man, with 1960s Turkish matinee idol looks, smiling to attract my attention, in that throng of media and TV cameramen around us. Suddenly the penny dropped. Yes, a few weeks earlier while I had a few drinks at my First secretary's flat in Ankara, he sipped lemon water. He was very keen to meet with me. So, I now went over and shook his hands. That was in end 1992. 

“And the young man was Abdullah Gul, recently home after a stint (7 years) at the Islamic Development Bank in Jeddah and put in charge of foreign affairs by Najmettin Erbakan, President of Islamist Welfare party. Most ambassadors in Ankara avoided looking up Erbakan, but I kept my promise. Hence the media attention.

When it seemed in 2007 that Erdogan would go for the Presidency, millions poured out in protest against him in Turkey’s capital Ankara, commercial and cultural metropolis Istanbul and Mediterranean port of Izmir, the historical Smyrna.

I did not have a chance to meet with Erdogan, then a very successful mayor of Istanbul, who made his name for honesty. Of course unlike almost all non-Islamist parties, which had become mired incorruption, Erdogan did not need bribes. As early as August 2001, Rahmi Koç, Chairman of Koç Holding, Turkey's largest and oldest conglomerate commented on CNN Türk that Erdogan has a US $ 1 billion fortune and asked the source of his wealth. Erdogan has remained silent. 

According to WikiLeaks, Eric Edelman, the then U.S. ambassador to Turkey, wrote in a cable to Washington on Dec. 30, 2004. 

“We have heard from two contacts that Erdogan has eight accounts in Swiss banks; his explanations that his wealth comes from the wedding presents guests gave his son and that a Turkish businessman is paying the educational expenses of all four Erdogan children in the U.S. purely altruistically are lame.” “—an anonymous source told [him] that Erdogan and [the source] benefited directly from the award of the Tüpras privatization to a consortium including a Russian partner”, said Edelman in another cable. (The Turkish Petroleum Refineries Corporation, or Tüpras, is the state petroleum refinery. A Russian-Turkish consortium paid nearly $1.3 billion for the privatization of the country’s largest-capacity refinery in 2004.) Edelman also listed former ministers Abdülkadir Aksu, Kürsat Tüzmen and Istanbul provincial chairman Mehmet Müezzinoglu as the most corrupt politicians in Turkey. 

These allegations were hotly denied by Erdogan but have refused to die down.

AKP came to power in 2002 on the strength of its image as fresh and honest party amidst a sea of corrupt establishment parties, but since then AKP's own finances appear to have become murky, blurring the distinction between business and politics. Turkish domestic and foreign policy is influenced by the influx of "green money," from governments like Saudi Arabia and wealthy Islamist businessmen in other Gulf Emirates.

Some Turkish professional bureaucrats, businessmen, journalists, and even politicians raised the question of Saudi money flowing into AKP coffers through green money business intermediaries. "The problem is Saudi Arabia. If you solve that, then our problem is solved," one independent parliamentarian told Rubin. (Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute in an article “Green Money, Islamist Politics in Turkey” for the Middle East Quarterly of 2005). A former member of the AKP concurred: "Before the 2002 election, there were rumors that an AKP victory would lead to an infusion of $10-$20 billion, mostly from Saudi Arabia. It looks like the rumors came true." 

While Turkish journalists and officials acknowledge that Saudi investment in Turkey and Turkish politics has increased since 2002, the exact nature of the investment is murky and circumstantial. Prior to the AKP's 2002 election victory, Abdullah Gül criticized state scrutiny of the Islamic enterprises, accusing the secular government of acting unfairly. Between1983 and 1991, Gül worked at the Islamic Development Bank in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The Islamic banks—and especially those sponsored by Saudi Arabia—regularly channel money to Islamist enterprises. On November 9, 2004, Deniz Baykal, leader of the parliamentary opposition RPP , accused the AKP of trying to create a religion-based economy. It is also affecting Turkey’s foreign policy.

Some Turkish economists suggest that after 11/9 Saudi and other Persian Gulf citizens' liquidated their U.S. holdings.  Some bankers estimate that individual Saudi investors withdrew between $100 and $200 billion. One Turkish economist suggested that, even if Saudi citizens moved $20 billion to France, $10 billion to Lebanon, and $6 billion to Switzerland, there would still be ample funds left to invest unofficially in Turkey. The money may support legitimate businesses. But, if both the investor and business fail to declare it, then such funds might remain immune to taxation and regulation. Various estimated of the green money infusion into the Turkish economy is between $6 billion and $12 billon. 

It may turn out to be a wise move, with the US economy in decline and talk of temporary debt default and dark allegations of missing gold in Fort Knox. US debt now amounts to $14 trillion, as much as its GDP, of which according to one source 41% is contributed by ‘Financial industry’, along with a stimulus of $ 2.8 trillion which exists only on computer screens. S and P believe that US does not deserve AAA classification for investment. Let us see when the house of card would begin to collapse. 

Much of the money enters Turkey "in suitcases" with couriers and remains in the unofficial economy. Even when deposited, banks ask no questions about the origins of the cash. "Money laundering is one of the worst aspects of Turkish politics," a former state planning official said. Political parties across the political spectrum have illegal slush fund. Under the AKP, the unofficial economy has grown exponentially. 

Official Turkish statistics provide some clue to the scope of the problem. Between 2002 and 2003, the summary balance of payments for net error and omission category—basically unexplained income—increased from $149 million to almost $4 billion. This is an eighty-year record error. In the first six months of 2004, an additional $1.3 billion entered the system, its origins unaccounted. According to Kesici, an economist there could be as much as a $2 billion overestimation in tourism revenue. 

Riyadh wants to build up Turkey as a powerful Sunni state to counter Iran’s influence. USA and Europe also support that view. Hence, so little is stated in Western media about Saudi Green Money’s role in Turkish politics. But so far Ankara has followed a rational policy regarding Tehran. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, its historical enemy, which had forced Ankara to join NATO in 1950s, when Moscow demanded return of two Turkish provinces in north East and role in 1936 Montreux Convention that gives it control over the Bosporus Straits and the Dardanelles, Turkey, a regional power with the largest military after USA in NATO , feels free to pursue an independent foreign policy.

Continued to :  Rise of Islamists in Turkish Republic   


More by :  K. Gajendra Singh

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