22 April 2014 New Roundup

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While the discussions about Presidential elections and who will serve as Turkey’s next PM intensify, parliament approved the controversial Intelligence Law. Disputes and clashes between unions and the government over permission to celebrate International Workers Day in Taksim continue and preparations for Turkey’s first Kurdish language university began. Amidst a possibility of electricity shortage in the summer, the Turkish economy is warned against the effects of FED’s tapering. Meanwhile, the budget deficit and the unemployment rate have shown increases. 

The controversial intelligence bill known as the National Intelligence Organisation (MIT) Law was approved in the parliament.

The bill aims to restructure the MIT and grant the organisation expansive authorities. It will also affect other intelligence organisations such as the police, the gendarmerie and the financial crime department. The initial draft discussed in the Parliament in February 2014 included granting the MIT perform ‘all kinds of tasks’ assigned by the Cabinet, which was criticised for being vague with regards to types and levels of these tasks. Due to concerns raised by the opposition, President Gul and even some members of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) the final draft of the intelligence bill omitted the term ‘all kinds’ from  ‘performing tasks assigned by the Cabinet’.

Additionally, the government has agreed to set up a parliamentary commission to oversee the intelligence organisations as the bill ensures that no criminal investigation for any unlawful act will be sought against the MIT by public courts.

The head of the MIT, for instance, can be put on trial by high-level appeals courts only with an executive permission from President of Turkey.  Nevertheless, the parliamentary commission does not have the full authority to inspect the MIT, but only to oversee its actions.

The MIT will able to collect any data concerning certain matters, which vary from national defence to international crimes and will have the authority to access data from public institutions, banks and any telecommunication channel with several means including wiretapping. However, publication of MIT’s classified documents will be sentenced up to nine years.

The new bill ensures the intelligence organisations to directly contact all national and international institutions, organisations, agencies and persons, which will create a legal framework for peace negotiations. The Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) argued that the bill legitimises the talks between the government and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is said to be effectively legitimising separatism in south-eastern Turkey.

A member of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), Sirri Sakik MP, praised this item of the bill and the MIT, however, other members of the BDP stated that they were against the bill as the articles of the bill are a serious threat to democracy and will violate personal rights and freedoms. The BDP officials indicated that the legal framework for the peace process cannot be achieved through this intelligence bill that only increases the powers of the Prime Minister.

The bill has received criticism from the opposition parties and national and international rights groups for risks of establishing a surveillance state. The level of immunity and expansive authorities granted to the MIT signals turning the state’s MIT into a private intelligence service of the Prime Ministry, argued rights groups. The government insists that the bill is part of democratisation process in Turkey and will only improve MIT’s capabilities to compete with foreign intelligence services. The opposition has vowed to take the bill to the Constitutional Court.

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The CHP has taken controversial bills to the Constitutional Court.

The opposition party, the CHP, took the recently approved Internet bill to the Constitutional Court on the grounds that the bill violates freedom of expression. Similarly, the CHP appealed the Constitutional Court to annul a law, which led to closure of ‘dershanes’ (private cram schools) as it is argued that it violates the constitutional freedom to establish private enterprises. Most ‘dershanes’ are affiliated with the Gulen Movement and it is argued that the closure of these schools was due to the power struggle between the government and the supposed ‘parallel’ state of the Gulenists.

Presidential elections

In the run up to the presidential elections in August 2014, President Abdullah Gul stated that he would not consider becoming the leader of the AKP under the current circumstances. PM Erdogan has signalled that he would run for presidency as he argued that the new president will exercise all presidential authorities granted in the constitution unlike the current president. The constitution allows the president to convene the Cabinet, issue decrees and appoint all top bureaucrats, judges, and ambassadors. PM Erdogan plans on touring Europe in May to campaign for presidency. Citizens of Turkey living abroad will, for the first time, be able to cast votes in the August Presidential Elections.

Meanwhile, Vice Chairman of the AKP Mehmet Ali Şahin stated that if PM Erdogan runs for presidency, one of the four deputy PMs, Bülent Arınç, Ali Babacan, Beşir Atalay and Emrullah İşler could start serving as the Prime Minister.

PM Erdogan appealed to the Constitutional Court.

PM Erdogan has made an individual appeal to the Constitutional Court for websites including Twitter and YouTube to remove content breaching right to privacy and freedom of communication of PM himself and his family. Following to 17 December 2013 graft probe, several tapes were leaked on social media sites featuring PM Erdogan and family members allegedly dealing in corruption.  Twitter had been banned for several weeks in the wake of the 30 March Local Elections, but was revoked by the Constitutional Court. PM Erdogan accused the court meddling in politics and alleged that these tapes are part of a dirty plot against him and the wishes of ‘the nation’. The ban on YouTube remains.

Twitter officials met with the government, which requested Twitter to open an office in Turkey for Turkish authorities to cooperate. Following meetings, Twitter has agreed to block some users who leaked alleged corruption tapes.

Communications Minister, Lutfi Elvan, suggested that Turkey might consider leaving World Wide Web ‘www’ and start using ‘ttt’ instead due to the government’s struggle to control global websites.

Turkey’s first Kurdish language university is being established.

It has been announced that The Mesopotamia Foundation has initiated its preparations for the establishment of a Kurdish language university in Diyarbakir. The founders will include the famous singer Shiwan Perwer as well as academics, businessmen and human rights activists. The university will also provide education in Turkish, English, Armenian and Syriac. The university is expected to be called Amed.

 ‘The Holy Birth Week’ has been celebrated in various ways in the east of Turkey.

The week, which was designated by the Turkish Presidency of Religious Affairs as a holiday for remembering the Prophet Muhammad, has seen the pro-Kurdish party BDP organise celebrations in the eastern city of Van. With no party signs, the celebrations focused on unity and piety. Meanwhile, in Diyarbakir the “Admirers of the Prophet” organised a gathering of celebrations, also commemorating the deaths of Muslim Brotherhood members in Egypt.

One week before the parliamentary elections in Iraq, PM Erdogan has met with the PM of the Kurdistan Regional Government Nachirvan Barzani. The leaders have re-iterated their commitment to cooperation in all areas, especially energy.

Turkey’s unsolved murders are on the agenda.

The case regarding the death of six people in a helicopter accident, including the head of the Grand Unity Party Muhsin Yazıcıoğlu is back on the agenda. The public can now access the information about the details of the case, thus the controversial deaths are expected to remain in Turkey’s agenda as new information could arise. The first case has been filed regarding the mysterious deaths.

On a different note…

  • Excavations for Euroasia Tunnel in the Marmara Sea, which will link the European and the Asian continents began with a ceremony where PM Erdogan spoke. The tunnel to be completed by 2016 is expected to decrease transportation time, air pollution and fuel consumption.
  • The Prime Ministry Inspection Board launched an investigation into Gülen Movement’s infiltration into the state-run TRT (the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation).
  • Unions made a call to gather in the symbolic Taksim Square. However, the mayor of Istanbul and the Interior Minister announced that no celebrations will be permitted in Taksim Square.  Instead, Yenikapi Square is allocated for the International Workers’ Day celebrations. Police responded to union members’ gathering in Taksim to announce May 1 celebrations with tear gas.
  • The Ministry of Labour and Social Security shared the statistics on child labour in the week approaching to 1st May International Workers Day. According to the statistics, there are still 292 thousand children between 6 and 14 years old working in Turkey. This amount corresponds to 2.6 % of all labour in Turkey.
  • In Antalya, a person has been given a 1 year long prison sentence, which was later converted to a TRY 6000 fine for writing “Ahmet Atakan Ölümsüzdür” (Ahmet Atakan is immortal). The 22-year-old Ahmet Atakan had died in the southern city of Antakya during the Gezi protests last year.  
  • The trials of Ethem Sarısülük, who had died during the Gezi protests in Ankara, continues. The police report that was provided to the court identified Sarısülük as a suspect, while calling the police who shot him the ‘victim’.

Turkey might need to import electricity.

The Minister of Energy and Natural Resources, Taner Yildiz, said that due to the severe weather conditions and draught Turkey may have to import electricity from Iran, Georgia and Bulgaria this summer.  Yildiz also noted that the crisis between Ukraine and Russia would not harm the relations between Turkey and Russia. Russia is one of the main sources of natural gas for Turkey.

The Minister of Finance, Mehmet Simsek, had a press meeting on macroeconomic developments and the budget in the first quarter of 2014. Simsek noted that the budget had a TRY 5.1 billion in March, which is 300 million less than last year. The deficit increased to TRY 1.5 billion in the first quarter. In the first three months expenses increased 11.3% and the revenues increased 10.8%

Unemployment in January decreased 0.5% as per last year but increased 0.1% as per previous month. Unemployment in January became 10.1% and unemployment excluding agricultural employment increased to 12.3%.

Credit rating agencies warn Turkey.

Not a single day passes without a warning from major credit rating agencies to Turkey. Standard and Poor’s, this time, warned that FED’s tapering will affect Turkey and South Africa the most.  Among the seven banking sectors that were analysed, the highest sensitivity to FED’s tapering was seen in South Africa and Turkey. Fitch Rating also noted that banking sectors in developing economies will have tough year due to slower growth, high interest rates, and increasing political risks.

The Central Bank of Turkey decreased the average funding rate to 10 %. This is the lowest in the last three and a half months. After a sharp interest rate hikes in January, the Bank lowered the funding rate and drew attention to this week’s Monetary Policy Committee Meeting on 24th April that decides on key interest rates.

CEFTUS Insights Editors

 

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