With the new presidential system, Erdoğan has consolidated his position of power. The new government includes many representatives of the business world, despite the risk of conflict of interest

31/07/2018 -  Fazıla Mat

The contours of New Turkey are increasingly clear after the election results of June 24th. The presidential system, already approved by a popular referendum in April 2017, has become effective with the confirmation of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as leader of the country. The president has concentrated the executive power in his hands, while the figure of the premier and the cabinet of ministers have become history. At the same time, with the abandonment of the parliamentary system, the role of the national assembly – though now made up of 600 deputies and dominated by the alliance of Erdoğan's party and the MHP nationalists – has been greatly reduced.

But the new system is different from the forms of presidentialism present in Western democracies like the United States, or from French semi-presidentialism. Politologists rather find greater similarities with some sub-Saharan African states, such as Zimbabwe, Ghana, and Malawi – three states that, after abandoning parliamentarism for presidentialism, have arrived to forms of open dictatorship.

These alleged similarities were strongly rejected by AKP (Party of Justice and Development) deputy Mustafa Şentop, regarded as the father of the presidentially-oriented constitutional reform. Speaking to the Turkish BBC, Şentop criticised the analogy by saying that "comparing Turkey, with its 150-year history of democracy, a founder of states based on law and justice, with countries that have struggled to elect regularly even their village chiefs is an Orientalist approach". But the first measures taken very rapidly by the new government indicate that the iron fist in the "fight against terrorism" will continue in full force, even now that the state of emergency, maintained for two years, is no longer in force.

Business and politics

Given the urgency of putting the new system into practice, the appointment of the new ministers, vice-president, and important ministerial positions was also quickly accomplished. Some appointments are considered particularly controversial, as they could lead to a clear, serious conflict of interest. For example, Murat Ersoy, owner of a well-known tourism company – ETS Turizm – and of the hotel chain Maxx Royal, will serve as the new Tourism Minister. On the other hand, new Health Minister Fahrettin Koca is founder and chairman of the Board of Directors and the Management Committee of the private Medipol University, specialised in several areas of medicine. In turn, the owner of the Maya chain of private schools, Ziya Selçuk, was appointed Minister of Education, while new Minister of Agriculture Bekir Pakdemirli was for several years executive and consultant of Canadian food multinational McCain Foods.

The appointments as ministers of people from the business world have led the most critical voices to coin new expressions to describe the country under the new presidential system, such as "Turkey Ltd". But other similarities have also been suggested. The Cumhuriyet newspaper, for example, highlighted the kinship links between some newly appointed ministers and members of the AKP. Thus, Turkey's new management has also been compared to family-owned companies. The opposition candidate, Muharrem Ince, associated it with certain popular Turkish restaurants, where the owner's son-in-law is invariably sitting at the counter. The reference is to Erdoğan's decision to entrust the Ministry of the Treasury and Finance to his son-in-law Berat Albayrak, former Minister of Energy. For some observers, this move is further evidence that Erdoğan considers his daughter's husband as his possible dolphin.

Among other appointments, a surprise came with General Hulusi Akar, who was Chief of Staff when the attempted military coup of July 15th, 2016 took place. Abdulhamit Gül and Süleyman Soylu, formerly Justice and Interior Ministers, were also re-appointed, and so was Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, known for the low profile maintained in foreign policy since 2014, after replacing his predecessor and former premier Ahmet Davutoğlu.

State of emergency

Meanwhile, as already announced in the pre-election phase by Erdoğan, the state of emergency declared immediately after the attempted coup of July 2016 has not been renewed. In the last two years, thousands of people have been arrested or fired, most of them accused of having links to Fethullah Gülen's movement. Ankara believes that Gülen – imam and tycoon resident in the US – is responsible for the failed coup that caused 250 deaths and hundreds of injuried.

However, the amendments to the anti-terrorism law just approved in parliament are strongly criticised by the opposition, because they envision a further, prolonged period of suspension of fundamental rights. For example, authorities can request from public and private bodies any document – with the exception of banking statements – about terrorism suspects and their families. Prefects and law enforcement forces continue to exercise the extraordinary powers held during the state of emergency. These powers include, for example, the search of suspicious persons or the limitation of the right to demonstrate outdoors only during the day.

It is also established that for individual offenses related to terrorist activities the standstill period is 48 hours – four days for a group crime. In both cases, the stop can be extended twice. The government remains free to fire civil servants and members of the armed forces, gendarmerie, and police if it deems them connected to terrorist organisations. The passport can also be confiscated from these persons under investigation and, if deemed necessary, their spouses. The measure, which should remain valid for three years, promises to introduce a long-standing emergency state in the country to allow the authorities "not to harm the fight against terrorism".

The inauguration ceremony

Erdoğan's inauguration ceremony, held on July 9th, was attended by 28 prime ministers and 22 heads of state, including nine from African countries (Edgar Lungu – Zambia, Ali Bongo – Gabon, Jose Mario Vaz – Guinea Bissau, Teodoro Obiang Nguema – Equatorial Guinea, Muhammed Veled Abdul Aziz – Mauritania, Idriss Deby – Chad, Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo – Somalia, Ismail Omar Guelleh – Djibouti, and Sudanese President Omar al Bashir, wanted by the International Criminal Court for genocide and war crimes). The ceremony was also attended by presidents Hashim Thaçi – Kosovo, Bakir Izetbegović – Bosnia and Herzegovina, Gjorge Ivanov – Macedonia, and Aleksandar Vučić – Serbia. Bulgarian president Rumen Radev was the only EU head of state present. For the member states of the Union, participants included Hungarian premier Viktor Orbàn, former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, and former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder. The EU itself was represented by Dimitris Avramopoulos, Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship.

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