The Update – Turkish Politics, 22 December 2011

Our “Tiny” Democracy Deficit

Our "tiny" democracy deficit

AKP’s great success is not the creation of a “Eurasian Tiger” in the economy (driven by unsustainable current account deficits), nor its social reforms (there is none), or its foreign policy initiatives (remember Zero Problems with Neighbors Policy?).  It is the erection of an awesome and invincible propaganda machine that pulled the wool over the eyes of the Western press and governments.

C. Ashton and S. Füle

For 10 years, Western liberals, think-tanks, human rights organizations, EU and to a lesser extent U.S.A. were hypnotized by this slick PR machine to believe that AKP is the champion of human rights and the only savior of the Turk on the street against the tyranny of an elusive and mythological Deep State. AKP is living proof of the old adage “Before the truth puts its boots on, lies travel around the world twice.

Well, guess what, the jig is up. The lies have finished their journey, and truth will out. Sometimes the only way to see the bigger truth is to pay close attention to tiny details. Let’s review this Reuters article via yahoo.com by Simon Cameron Moore[1]:

There was a time when candidates to the Turkish Academy of Sciences needed above all the respect and acceptance of their peers, but these days the government can largely choose who gets in.

TÜBA - the Turkish Academy of Sciences

The change, according to some academics, is symptomatic of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s move toward an increasingly centralized form of government as he settles into a third term in office after the AK Party’s easy election victory in June.

“What we are observing is the AK Party is becoming a lot more centralized,” Fuat Keyman, the Director of Istanbul Policy Center told Reuters, as he mulled the state of Turkey’s democracy while stuck in one of the city’s tortuous traffic jams. “What is happening in the Turkish Academy of Sciences is one of side of it.”

This month, scientists who did not want to belong to an academic institution whose members were mostly selected by government functionaries set up their own independent academy. Astro physicist Ali Alpar was among them.

Astro physicist Ali Alpar

“My personal opinion is that a feature of a genuine democracy is that public institutions funded by the state should have freedom to take decisions in their area of expertise,” Professor Alpar, told Reuters, at a cafe after a day of classes at Istanbul’s Sabanci University.

“Who is the bureaucrat or the politician who is going to read a physicist’s or philosopher’s papers and make judgment?” he asked, sipping tea from a traditional tulip-shaped glass.

The government’s decision, made through a decree that appeared in the Official Gazette when most Turks were enjoying the Muslim Eid al Fitr holiday in late August and reinforced by a second decree in November, caused uproar in academic circles.

Half of the 138 members of the prestigious academy, known by its acronym TUBA, have quit in protest.

Foreign academies wrote to Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul voicing grave misgivings over the state’s intrusion into the world of academic science.

Lars Walloe, President of the London-based Academia Europaea, wrote to Erdogan on October 14.

Lars Walloe, President of the London-based Academia Europaea, wrote to Erdogan on October 14, urging a rethink with the warning:

“Unfortunately, the recent legal changes especially those allowing the introduction of new members and the appointment of the president of the Academy by the government will affect the reputation of TUBA … and will inevitably mean that it is no longer recognized by the international community as Turkey’s national academy of science and letters.”

FAST AND EFFICIENT

The government’s aim in taking control of the Turkish Academy of Sciences (TUBA) is to invigorate an organization that was not seen doing enough to promote science and technology for a booming economy that needs to move to a new level to sustain high levels of growth.

The argument for efficient, effective government resonates with people who are enjoying more prosperity that they have had before.

The academy had its faults. Even members admit it was not active enough, and was slow admitting new members.

The rejection of some candidates fed perceptions that a conservative secular clique played a deciding role, blocking the entry of scientists whose religious faith was viewed positively within the AK Party.

Alpar says the idea that anything other than scientific merit had played a role in the selection of TUBA members is invalid.

Instead, he saw a greater danger of TUBA being filled with scientists seeking favor with political masters for professional advancement.

“The people this or any government will appoint to an academy would be associated or particularly recommended to the government and that can be on political, ideological, religious or whatever grounds,” Alpar said.

“But to be there in a real sense, being a member of a respectable academy, means the person has to be evaluated on their scientific merit. And this is what they are glossing over; they are trying to make appointments.”

TUBA now falls firmly within the ambit of the newly-formed Ministry of Science, Technology and Industry.

Minister for Science, Technology and Industry Nihat Ergün casts his vote at a polling station in last Turkish general election.

Reuters e-mailed questions to Minister Nihat Ergün, and telephoned the ministry several times, but the minister sent regrets that he was too busy to respond, while officials declined to comment.

CHP Vice-President Faruk Logoglu

But Faruk Logoglu, a senior lawmaker in the main secularist opposition People’s Republican Party CHP, did not mince words about the party formed in 2002 and drawing support from religious conservatives as well as center-right elements and nationalists.

“This was a continuation of a systematic attack on the posts of our secular society by the AK Party,” Logoglu said. “Knowledge is one of the most powerful ingredients of a secular society. Even communist societies don’t do this.”

More Turks worry about diminishing plurality in Turkey than the specter of a threat to the secular state.

Science & Politics

Let’s move on to bigger lies, once again quoting Mr. Cameron Moore:

TUBA’s fate is part of a bigger picture.

Prior to the election, legislation was announced that enabled the government to issue decrees for six months that bypassed parliament, bridging a summer recess and the transition from the outgoing assembly to the new one.

Using this window, government ministries assumed greater influence over several economic regulatory agencies, including ones covering banking, capital markets, energy, broadcasting, and tobacco and alcohol.

Erdogan and Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan, the minister overseeing the economy, said during the election campaign that the government intended to have more influence over such bodies.

Prime Minister Erdogan

In an address to a business forum last May, Erdogan gave telling insight into his thinking.

“Do you know the logic of independent bodies? If they succeed it is theirs, if not, it is the politicians’ fault. They are all the same from A to Z. Why do we have to pay the price for this?” he said.

“Does the electorate care if independent bodies are beneficial or not … The price of fuel is determined on the market, but do the people know that? No matter how hard you try to explain to them, they say ‘The government hiked prices’.”

Given, the government’s success in economic management over the past decade, these moves passed without causing any great stir.

Keyman, a leading Turkish political scientist, saw all the changes as manifestations of the AK government’s switch to greater centralization, and evidence of a “democratic recession” in Turkey.

“There is a disconnect between democracy and centralization in Turkey,” he concluded gloomily, still stuck in traffic.

The Policy of Capture

Media and Politics

Are you getting the bigger picture?  AKP has this insatiable lust for control that stretches from the BIG, such as subverting independent regulatory agencies to its political aims, to the SMALL such as the TUBA. The very atoms of a democratic society, science foundations, labor unions, trade associations  and the bigger molecules such as regulatory agencies, universities, the press are rapidly, unethically  and ruthless captured, purged and turned over to the members of the Sunni religious orders as booty for their unrelenting support of AKP’s electoral machine.

The last bastion WAS the Grand Assembly

Turkish General Assembly - TBMM

AKP’s “take no prisoners” approach has finally reached the Grand Assembly which it once extolled as the  sacred temple of  Turkish democracy. “There shall be no power greater than the voice of the people freely expressed in the halls of the Grand Assembly” roared AKP’s spin doctors. AKP is now using its vast majority to amend the by-laws to silence that roar in the last castle of free speech in Turkey. Grand Assembly now only allows free speech for the representatives of the 50% of the population who voted for AKP.     RADIKAL author, Mr. Tarhan Erdem, a respected political scientist, described the budget proceedings as follows[2]:

Speaking Half-Truths

Half Truth

Do you know, the national budget is being debated at the Parliament? [..]

I read the minutes on the web before I started to write. The parliamentary session completed  8 sessions from 13 pm, Saturday to 1.30 am, Sunday.

In 12 hours, it debated and approved the budgets for two ministries and 15 state agencies. Among the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Undersecretariat of Treasury, BDDK (Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency), SPK (Capital Markets Board of Turkey), the Undersecretariat for Public Order and Safety, The Directorate of Religious Affairs, High Council of Judges and Prosecutors, the General Directorate of Security (Turkish National Police), the Gendarmerie General Command and 7 other institutes, each commanded less than 30 minutes in average!

In such a short time, what can the opposition meaningfully say? And how can the government reply?

According to the Constitution, the draft budget should be submitted to the Speakership of the Parliament 75 days before the opening of the new fiscal year. It is also a constitutional provision that 55 days of it should be used by the budgetary commissions.

14 days are left to the plenary session. Depending on these provisions, the negotiations should be completed in between 8th and 21st December. This system allows for 12 hours to debate 17 budgets.

In general, the acts and policies of the government can now only  be discussed at the budget debates. Parliamentary by-laws no longer allow making speeches out of order or on general topics. The functionality of the legislative body is restricted due to these strange by-laws and time limitations on the budgetary protocol.

Therefore, the opposition increasingly resorts to censure  motions, which are sometimes abused, but are the only venue left to the opposition to  criticize the general approach of the government. The opposition is compelled to use censure motions to be able to criticize the government freely and make his voice heard. In brief, the oversight function of the Parliament is now restricted too much in practice.

In brief, AKP can’t even tolerate  dissent under the roof the Grand Assembly.  The press is subjugated into silence or punished by tax audits.  The judiciary is staffed by AKP cronies, criticizing the government in the parliament is forbidden by the use of draconian by-laws. Just how much more does it take to callTurkeywhat it has actually mutated into?  An authoritarian one-party state.

Atilla Yeşilada – Selda Doğan

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