Political cracks in Turkish govt. deepen in nationalist’s favor

©Arab News

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan greets members of his ruling AKP during a meeting at the parliament in Ankara, Turkey, November 25, 2020.

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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.

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