Crisis Redux?

According to commentators in the Turkish press, there is never any shortage of government crises in the country. Thus it is especially exasperating when political uproars are unnecessary. The latest threat to stability emerged from a disagreement between President Ahmet Necdet Sezer and the government of Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit regarding the appropriate mechanism for purging Islamist and pro-Kurdish elements from the public sector. Many observers characterized the public conflict, which has been going on since June, as “needlessly alarmist.”

Throughout July and August, Sezer rejected the proposal by Ecevit’s government to fire civil servants involved in religious fundamentalist or separatist activities. While Sezer apparently does not oppose the intent of the decree, he asserted that the decree itself is unconstitutional, since it was not submitted to parliament according to proper legislative procedure. In an August decision, the powerful National Security Council urged the application of the decree’s content without specifying the means. Ecevit’s government finally agreed to submit the proposal to a parliamentary legal process.

In the interim between the president’s investigation of the decree’s constitutionality and the government’s eventual agreement with the president, Prime Minister Ecevit threatened a “government crisis” and predicted “grave consequences” if Sezer failed to sign the measure.

Writing in the centrist Sabah (Aug. 23), Zulfu Livaneli decried the fact that this issue took priority even over crucial economic issues and much-needed preparations for the future earthquakes expected to hit Istanbul. “While politicians may not have had enough of such crises, believe me, the people are tired of them,” Livaneli stated.

Commentators in the liberal Radikal labeled the tension an “artificial crisis”, while the conservative  Sabah (Aug. 23) spoke of the ringing of a “false alarm.” A columnist from the pro-Islamic Zaman (Aug. 24), Ahmet Selim, criticized the president for unilaterally deciding on the unconstitutionality of the decree. Though Selim himself believes the decree is unconstitutional, he wrote that Sezer should have pursued the matter in the constitutional court rather than simply refusing to sign and return the decree.

Most liberal observers agreed that the parliamentary process—and not the political one—is the best forum in which to consider the proposal. They differed as to what the future holds for relations between the new president and the government, mindful that the prime minister had fought long and hard —and ultimately unsuccessfully—against the appointment of anyone besides the previous incumbent, Suleyman Demirel, to the presidency. [See WPR’s Regional Reports Europe, June 2000.]

Radikal’s Ismet Berkan (Aug. 23) noted that President Sezer emerged victorious from his first political challenge, demonstrating his political independence.

Sabah’s Gulay Gokturk expressed hope that parliamentary discussions of the proposal would lead to workable definitions of “fundamentalism,” “separatism,” and the ability to distinguish between crimes of thought and crimes of deed. “Perhaps,” wrote Gokturk, “there might even be discussions of how a 100-percent pure and homogenous state that reflects none of the cultural, political, ideological, religious, and ethnic differences and plurality in our society could actually be a ‘democratic state.’ ”

Columnist Mehmet Yilmaz of Radikal (Aug. 24) was less sanguine with regard to the legal process surrounding this measure, predicting that “this will be the moment for a true upheaval.”