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Friday, 16 November 2018

Centralisation of Power in Turkey: Is it sustainable?

On 12 November 2018, ESC hosted a panel discussion organised jointly by SEESOX and PEFM, entitled “Centralisation of Power in Turkey: Is it sustainable?” The discussion was chaired by David Madden (SEESOX), and the speakers were Ezgi Başaran (SEESOX), Mehmet Karlı (SEESOX) and Charles Enoch (PEFM).

In Başaran’s presentation on “Structural Inconsistency and New Constants in the New Turkish Foreign Policy”, she pointed to the factors leading to the emergence of a new foreign policy, which marked a radical shift. These included the complete erosion of domestic checks and balances, parliament’s loss of its role in foreign policy, the subduing and suppression of any critical views on foreign policy, and the erosion of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ traditional role as a strong foreign policy actor. Consequently, the new policy is highly transactional, personalised and temperamental. Başaran highlighted three cases which revealed the changed character of foreign policy: the American-Turkish crisis over the arrest and the eventual release of pastor Brunson; the crisis in Turkish-EU , and not least Turkish-German, relations following the 2016 coup attempt and the recent rapprochement following Turkey’s economic crisis; and Turkish-Russian relations, especially in the context of the Syrian crisis. Finally, Başaran also questioned whether there are any constants in the new foreign policy. She argued that a vague Middle Eastern orientation, prioritisation of international criminal co-operation to contribute to Turkey’s domestic security operations, and continuing paranoia regarding the Kurdish role in international relations, appear to be the constants in this otherwise fluid policy framework. Karlı’s presentation, entitled “A Constitution to End All Constitutions: the Turkish Constitution after 2017 and the Decline of Ottoman-Turkish Constitutionalism”, offered a very detailed description of the constitutional changes after 2017. He began by indicating that the new “Turkish Presidential System” is a form of “delegational” presidential system, where checks and balances are seen as “unnecessary impediments to the full authority that the President has been delegated to exercise”. He also noted that the new system is highly majoritarian and prone to slide into competitive authoritarianism. He explained how the system works so as to centralise power in the hands of the President, to the detriment of both the legislature and the judiciary. He pointed out the mechanisms whereby the parliament loses many of its powers, such as impeachment, asking questions and on budget-making, as well as its legislative function. The new constitution enhances both the power of the President to dissolve the parliament, and his power of veto over legislation, as well as making it hard to reach qualified majorities in the parliament. He also underlined the new power of the presidential decrees, which he described as “the nail in the coffin of the primacy of legislation”. As for the judiciary under the new executive system, Karlı described how the former system of balance between the high courts and the President has been changed to the benefit of the executive. Karlı concluded that the new constitution, which had been drafted and voted on during the State of Emergency, serves as a tool to establish a perpetual state of emergency. He underlined and warned that the current situation represents a rupture and a rewinding of 200 years of constitutional history in Turkey.

In his presentation “Centralisation of Power in Turkey: Is it Sustainable?” Enoch offered a detailed explanation of the centralisation of power over the economy in three areas of government: the Central Bank, the Sovereign Wealth Fund, and the Finance Ministry. He began by noting that market perceptions of risk in the Turkish economy are deteriorating rapidly and concern regarding the sustainability of economic strategy is rising. He pointed to the loss of confidence in economic management, as Erdoğan talks of foreign conspiracies, appoints his son-in-law as Finance and Economy Minister, the lira falls drastically and the Central Bank loses its independence. Turning to the Sovereign Wealth Fund, he pointed out that, with a revised charter in 2018, the entire board was sacked and the Fund was placed under the control of Erdoğan as Chairman, with his son-in-law as Deputy Chairman. With the appointment of Berat Albayrak to the merged ministries, the erosion of technocrats since the time of the IMF programmes was complete. Enoch concluded that economic strategy is unlikely to survive the centralisation of power in the economy, given the slowing growth, rising debt, lack of confidence, a dampening of foreign inflows and continued erratic policy announcements. Not surprisingly the Central Bank finally responded to increasing inflation. He also drew attention to Erdoğan’s friendship with Venezuelan leader Maduro, fearing that Turkey might follow a similar trajectory to Venezuela. Quoting Paul Krugman, he characterised the unfolding crisis as “a classic currency-and-debt crisis of a kind we have seen many times”.

After the presentations, the panel continued with a lively Q&A, where the questions revolved around the sustainability of the new regime in terms of economic policy as well as internal and international politics. In response to question on internal and international politics, Başaran and Karlı expressed their concerns that the new regime faces a chaotic international environment, in which all other major actors are playing a similar game and that there are no internal checks and balances. Enoch commented that the economic policy cannot be sustained and Turkey would either have to go to the IMF or face rampant inflation. In response to a question on the implications of the changed Turkish regime on the Cyprus policy, Karli warned that the crisis could encourage military adventurism, but this seemed unlikely, given that Turkey needs European money to survive. 

Alev Özkazanç (Visiting Fellow, St Antony's College)

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