Turkey’s agenda this week concentrated on the details and extent of its involvement in the conflict with Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria and Iraq. Domestically, whilst the country re-visited its dismal freedom of press record, the anticipation for the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) elections were coupled by talks of possible early parliamentary elections. Meanwhile, in the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) new report highlighted the strengths and weaknesses of the Turkish economy as it battles low consumption amidst high inflation.
[tabby title=”Domestic Politics”]
Freedom of press
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the International Press Institute (IPI) held numerous meetings with senior officials in Turkey last week. President Erdogan reportedly remarked that his dislike to Internet increases each day. His words, according to Lütfullah Göktaş, the chief presidential advisor on media, should be interpreted as being against the use of Internet by terrorist organisations like ISIS to promote their atrocities. It is reported that two member journalists of the IPI, Burcu Karakas and Emre Kizilkaya, were not allowed to attend the meeting with President Erdogan and were dismissed on the door.
PM Davutoglu defended the freedom of press in Turkey and offered support to journalists who receive threats. He said that any threat to Amberin Zaman, who was in fact lashed out and called as ‘indecent’ and ‘militant in the guise of a journalist’ by the then PM Erdogan during an election rally August 2014, will be considered a threat to him. Meanwhile, the Justice Minister, Bekir Bozdag, asserted that there should be an international agreement to avert harms of Internet to the public.
Opposition leader, Kilicdaroglu of the Republican’s People’s Party (CHP) blamed the government for failing to ensure the freedom of the press and weakening democracy. Both CPJ and IPI reported that Turkey still owns the title of having the highest numbers of jailed journalists in Europe and unfortunately, the government’s direct or indirect pressure on media remain to be a concern for international press freedom organisations.
The constitutional court annulled the bill passed earlier this year which had granted TIB power of surveillance and control over internet usage. Details of the bill can be found in a previous CEFTUS Insights News Round-up. PM Davutoglu commented that the Constitutional Court’s verdict will cause failure to protect families due to freedom of expression on social media sites. He said that an unnamed person supposedly provoked people to attack Davutoglu’s home during the Gezi Protests in 2013. This, he said, proved that the Telecommunications Directorate (TIB) should have a right to shut down websites immediately and store data of users.
Early General Elections
The government is considering holding the general elections 2015 a few months earlier. The elections, which are originally due to take place in June 2015, might be held in April or May instead. This move might mean that there will be a shorter period of time to discuss 2015 budget and the commission of inquiry into the alleged corruption allegations against four former cabinet ministers.
The government is reported to consider a tactical move if the next HSYK election does not result in an AKP majority. No government allies won the previous two elections in September. Although PM Davutoglu stated that he would respect the election results, AKP Deputy Head Mustafa Şentop said that the government might consider opting for a referendum for a constitutional change to impose appointments from the parliament where the AKP holds majority.
The right to wear headscarves at schools
The Union of Turkish Bar Associations (TBB) filed a complaint to the Council of State to annul the bill which allows girls as young as 10 years old to wear headscarves at school. TBB claimed that this bill is a violation of secularism and against the constitution.
Kurdish Resolution Process
Turkish government moved to establish separate legal body to coordinate Kurdish resolution process. The Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc announced that the government formed a Resolution Process Committee as well as Steering and Coordinating Commissions. President Erdogan has approved this legal framework, where the members of the committees would include one Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Interior Affairs, Minister of Justice and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Defence as well as the Head of the National Intelligence Organisation (MIT). The Committees will be led by the PM Davutoglu.
According to a Bianet report, 23 woman was killed by men in September 2014. 8 girls and women reported to have been raped, 47 women injured and 12 women and girls abused by men.
[tabby title=”Foreign Relations”]
As the fighting between the Kurdish and the ISIS forces intensified in Syria and moved increasingly closer to the Turkish border, the Turkish government has had to react rapidly on all fronts including humanitarian aid, diplomatic engagements with the Western led coalition and forming a technical action plan for the Turkish military’s involvement in the conflict.
In this context, the Turkish parliament approved a bill to authorise its troops to go into Syria and Iraq and foreign troops to utilise its land. The bill was passed with the support of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and National Movement Party (MHP), while the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and People’s Democratic Party (HDP) voted against the bill. The HDP did not support the motion on the grounds that the government has allegedly supported ISIS against Kurds. The CHP accused the government of dragging Turkey into this regional war, which has no end in sight, and of attempting to topple Assad of Syria by this bill.
Although the bill is broadly worded, some specifics can be cited;
- The government will have the power to launch cross-border military operations against terrorist activity that threatens its national security. This means that air and ground operations will be authorized against ISIS. There are questions as to what this means for the PKK, which is recognized as a terrorist organization by the Turkish state and the reconciliation process with the Kurds in Turkey.
- Also, the bill will allow international military forces to operate from Turkish bases.
- The bill also states that any involvement of the Turkish forces in Syria and Iraq will be within the confines of relevant international law.
The government is also aiming to establish safe havens in parts of Syria for humanitarian assistance and no-fly zones in addition to provide training for Free Syrian Army (FSA) in Turkey. It is not clear whether the Western powers will support such aims of the Turkish government.
President Erdogan criticised the Kurdistan Workers’ Party’s (PKK) support to the People’s Protection Units (YPG) to save Kobane in Syria. He said that the PKK is an outlawed terrorist organisation, no different than ISIS and that the PKK damages the Resolution Process by taking advantage of the crisis on the borders. He blamed the PKK for valuing Kobane more than the Eastern Anatolia as he stated that the PKK is not letting an airport construction to be completed in Hakkari. Meanwhile, the leader of the PKK, Ocalan, said that if Kobane falls the resolution process will be severely damaged.
PM Davutoglu, on the other hand, did assure that Turkey will not let ISIS to capture Kobane following the parliamentary order to the government for cross-border military operations against ISIS. A Kurdish group in Suruc of Sanliurfa attempting to cross the border to Kobane clashed with Turkish security forces and was tear-gassed. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that 3000 Kurds have been stuck on the Turkish-Syrian border, prevented by the Turkish security forces.
The issuing of this bill was also an indication that Turkey would join the international coalition’s efforts against ISIS. A diplomatic incident occurred where Vice President of the USA John Biden stated that President Erdogan had admitted that Turkey allowed free movements across its borders which contributed to the strengthening of the ISIS in the region. However, he called President Erdogan personally and apologised about these comments later on.
A controversial article was published in The Times newspaper in the UK, where it was claimed that Turkey released 180 ISIS members in exchange for the freedom of the 49 hostages in Iraq by ISIS. The details of how the hostages were freed last week were not made clear to the public.
Inflation levels have been released for September, with the consumer price index (CPI) at a lower than expected rate. For the first time in nine months CPI has fallen below 9% at 8,86%. While producer price inflation remained high in September at 9.84%.
Minister of Development Cevdet Yilmaz has stated that the Turkish government spent a total of $ 4.5 billion in order to deal with the incoming refugees from Syria, whose numbers have now exceeded 1.5 million.
Finance Minister Mehmet Simsek has announced the sectors in which the government would be privatising its enterprises. The list includes;
- Betting games
- Electricity generation plants
- Highways and bridges
- Certain ports
- Erzurum Winter Olympics site
- 25 sugar and 5 machinery factories
- Real estate and land
IMF released a new report on the state of Turkey’s economy. According to the report Turkey’s growth, albeit at a moderate level, will continue. 2014 GDP growth is expected to be 3% due to the contributions of public spending and exports. The report warned about;
- Passover effects of a volatile currency
- High food inflation
- A premature monetary easing policy
- A high current account deficit
- A low domestic savings rate
The report claimed that Turkey’s financial system was sound, with an average level of capital adequacy ratio and mostlyhigh quality capital. Currently, the outstanding loans are sufficiently covered by banks. However, the IMF underlined that banks’ have increased their financing through external wholesale funding. Moreover, they are in risk of a currency related crisis as they have been granting loans in foreign currencies to non-financial corporations.
The IMF suggested that;
- A stricter fiscal policy would ease the pressure on the monetary policy as well as reduce the external imbalances
- The monetary policy should prioritize managing inflation. The current interest rate is not in line with an aim of bringing down the inflation rate to 5%
- The net international reserves should be increased as precautions against currency volatility