Kivanc Dundar in Istanbul -
There was drama in Turkey’s parliament on September 3 after opposition parties united to block the appointment of several “independent” cabinet members who they claim are actually stooges for the ruling AK Party. A slap in the face for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the decision was quickly overturned after a few hours of frenzied back-room deals. But the whole episode that played out on national TV underscores the height of political tensions in the country ahead of fresh general elections in November.
In an unprecedented move, deputies from the rival opposition parties, CHP, MHP and the main Kurdish party HDP acted together and voted against allowing the swearing in of 11 ministers proposed by caretaker prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu.
Parliament is hung after a general election in June, which saw a Kurdish party enter the assembly for the first time and leaving no clear majority. Blocking the appointment of the ministers is arguably the first time the Kurds have successfully exercised their political power in Turkey’s modern history.
The main opposition party, the CHP, claimed that 11 ministers were not “independent” and called for the vote. Lawmakers from the centre-left CHP, nationalist MHP, and Kurdish HDP clubbed together for the first time ever to face down the Erdogan-backed appointments.
The result set off an intense round of meetings between the speaker of parliament and the parliamentary group chairmen of the AKP, CHP and MHP to overcome the impasse. A second vote was held within a few hours, in which the ministers were narrowly accepted with 245 votes for against 233 votes against.
Their appointment had been regarded as a foregone conclusion since Erdogan had already approved the assignments of the ministers in question so they could take up their jobs, but without parliamentary immunity.
More chaos in the political firmament only undermined international investors' confidence in the country and the Turkish lira got slammed as the circus played out on national TV. The lira hit a near record low of TRY2.97 against the dollar after worse-than-expected August inflation data added to investors’ concerns. Consumer prices rose by 0.4% m/m in August (market consensus: 0.11% m/m), bringing the annual inflation rate to 7.14% from 6.81% in July. Political uncertainty, heightened security concerns and geopolitical risks add to investor unease.
The “no” vote will come as a shock for President Erdogan, who dominated the previous parliament and is widely believed to have scuppered coalition talks following June’s election in order to get another chance to dominate parliament after new elections in November. It is precisely this sort of interference in domestic politics that Erdogan wants to avoid by transferring much of the executive power from parliament to the presidency.
Turkey is “politically adrift in chartered waters” according to a recent report from Morgan Stanley, and suffering from a political vacuum. Violence between the authorities and the Kurdish populated southeastern provinces has noticeably flared in just the last few days underlining the increasing political tensions in the country ahead of November’s poll.
On the morning of September 3, four police officers were killed in the Mardin province when suspected Kurdish militants set off a roadside bomb. According to state-run news agency Anadolu, 72 security personnel have been killed in the clashes with the PKK between July 7 and September 2. Another 965 PKK militants have been rendered ineffective over the same period, the agency reported.
Selahattin Demirtas, co-chair of the main Kurdish party HDP, voiced serious concerns about the current situation. The necessary conditions do not exist to hold the elections in Turkey’s south-eastern provinces because of violence between the security forces and the PKK, said Demirtas.
The unprecedented scenes in parliament followed a police police crackdown of Gulen-linked Koza-Ipek companies, which was widely seen as an attempt by Erdogan to silence the opposition media ahead of the polls. On September 1, police searched Koza Group – which is active in the media (TV channels Kanalturk, Bugun and Bugun and Millet newspapers), energy and mining sectors – on suspicion of providing financial support to the so-called “Fethullahist Terrorist Group”. US-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen was once one of Erdogan’s closest allies but later became an outspoken critic of the AKP and Erdogan.
Two British VICE journalists were also arrested on terrorist charges earlier this week while researching a story on the Kurdish PKK group, causing an international outcry. However, just as VICE went into full campaign mode on the morning of September 3, it appears the authorities realised they had bitten off more than they could chew and release the men as well as their Kurdish fixer.
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