This was not the Ottoman way

Aslı Aydıntaşbaş

cumhuriyet.com.tr
13 Temmuz 2018 Cuma, 15:34

A modern urban couple adorn the front cover of the issue of the humorous magazine Uykusuz appearing today. It is clear that our fellow has had the computer in his lap for days and is reading with bleary eyes entries about the new cabinet proclaimed following the ending symphony of the first republic. His wife or girlfriend approaches him saying, “OK, come on now. Let’s get some air. Enough.” The man, long since having surrendered his soul and unable to tear himself away from the news, says with a forced optimism: “At least our Minister of National Education seems good, doesn’t he?”

This is precisely the state of mind of the other Turkey. Being forced to sit on the couch and observe radical change to which it does not consent and whose results fill it with great horror.

And, in the process, to do its nut, if this is a fitting expression.

OK, is the one who should be doing their nut the man on the couch, or those who designed this strange centralization effort appearing before us named the presidential system of governance? If I were them, I would not feel at all relaxed today.

Why? Let me fill you in. Yesterday, I tried to read Presidential Decree Number One that sets out the functioning of the new system or, more correctly, the structure of the state. I cannot say that I read the full 192-page text. But I realised that the state is being reorganised around Tayyip Erdoğan and, from theatres to agricultural offices in villages, the power to appoint and manage is being vested in the Presidency.

How is it that amassing all these powers in a single hand will speed up the functioning of this “clumsy” state? Ever since the day I set out in journalism, there have been pronouncements on the “tyrannical” and “clumsy” nature of the state from the very people at the top of the state, and proposals by way of solution for localization and decentralization. This had also been the cornerstone of all right-wing parties’ reform programmes from ANAP to the AKP.

What is now being proposed, conversely, is centralization in every area. The amassing of all powers in a single hand. This runs counter not just to the conclusions we have drawn from human history, but to our own history. The Ottoman Empire spent more or less its final 150 years on reform efforts and these efforts centred on distributing the Sultan’s powers among the state bureaucracy and establishing a more effective government. The institution of Grand Vizier was for this reason transported out of the Palace towards the end of the eighteenth century. What benefit will come of adapting to the current day a centralized structure that even the Ottoman Empire rejected?

Turkey most certainly needed governmental reform. The state was indeed running on one cylinder. But, the new system carries the risk of precisely magnifying the troubles in the old system.

In principle, the presidential system can lead to a better functioning of the state, or indeed democracy. However, what confronts us is nothing like the presidential system. The whole spirit of the presidential system as applied in the USA is the “checking” and “balancing” of the president’s powers by congress and the judiciary. A further indispensable feature of the presidential system is the states. Thanks to the state structure, state services are dispensed locally. Yes, Donald Trump can make an appointment if a vacancy arises on the Supreme Court, but he cannot go ahead and appoint the Massachusetts police chief or the manager of a theatre in Boston. Never mind these, he cannot even appoint the rector to any university or the governor to any state.

Unfortunately, in our new system, partisan news stations have been conceived of in place of the separation of powers and the MHP in place of checks and balances. It is a structure assembled hastily without drawing any lesson at all from European and Ottoman history. Moreover, given that it has been assembled solely with Tayyip Erdoğan in mind, it will be troublesome in the long term.

What can I say? “May it be auspicious” to use an in-vogue term. I think this concentrating of power will exhaust Turkey, bring the state to a standstill and cause clumsiness in the economy.

I hope I am wrong.

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