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What will be the aim of the legislative proposals that the Presidency will bring to the agenda of the Parliament as of June 2? Recovering the economy, rendering politics more democratic, or reinforcing the AKP-MHP alliance? 

The majority of the restrictions applied for more than two months due to the Coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak got lifted on June 1. Parliament will remain open until the end of July, so for about two months. There’s a fundamental question here. Will the legislation proposals brought to Parliament during this time aim to recover the economy or democracy in politics? Or will they aim to consolidate the alliance between the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP)? The news diffused by the media, the bulk of which is pro-government, have prepped society’s political psychology to what is to come in the next two months. Therefore, large sections of the population will not be surprised when, for instance, the Presidency sends a proposal for presidential interventions in the Bar Association’s election procedures, as the first priority. Around that time, people will be busy recovering from COVID-19’s economic toll. An army of the unemployed will be struggling to look for jobs, small businesses striving not to go bust, and larger businesses seeking to remain in the government’s good graces, hoping it will save them first. In this context, if, for example, the proposal to seize Republican People’s Party (CHP) shares at İş Bank is brought to Parliament (though there is a chance Parliament will reject this), there will be but a handful of people raising their voices to such a decision. We’re talking about a debate that takes place almost exclusively between AKP and its actual coalition partner MHP, in matters ranging from the political parties act to the electoral law. It looks as though President Tayyip Erdoğan and his partner-in-politics MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli are attempting what many have tried before. They believe that by continuing to win elections through changing the rules, they will continue to be in power. 

In this context, a new discussion started in Ankara, on a new scenario that will affect liberties as well as democracy.

And now, the state of emergency scenario

Speaking to Saygı Öztürk from Sözcü daily, CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu became the first politician to articulate this scenario. Suggesting that the government has made “plans to bring the CHP base onto the streets,” Kılıçdaroğlu said. He also added the following: “They [government] are looking to silence everyone through an oppressive governance approach. To justify this, they formed the ‘CHP is out on the streets, they support anarchy and terror’ discourse. What they aim to do is establish a more oppressive government that nobody can object to, first by declaring the state of emergency. We won’t play their game.”

Kılıçdaroğlu articulating these issues right before the Parliament’s re-opening is important. Though Kılıçdaroğlu didn’t imply that, his words bring to mind talks in the political backstage along the lines of “AKP is losing votes, Erdoğan won’t go for elections any more.”

On the other hand, these words aim at CHP members as well as Erdogan’s government. The CHP Congress got postponed due to COVID-19. And even though the date isn’t set yet, the party will likely convene in August. Every party figure want to come to the fore. Kılıçdaroğlu is warning his party members of the fact that the government considers them with a jaundiced eye, and that they shouldn’t give them any leverage with their actions. It’s also significant that Kılıçdaroğlu issued this warning through the Sözcü daily, a publication that mostly the CHP base reads.

Of course, Kılıçdaroğlu himself must avoid repeating mistakes similar to when he had fallen into the government’s trap over the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and voted to remove parliamentary immunity in 2017.

The CHP leader has a tough road ahead of him. Not only has he got to continue his opposition activity, but he also has to maintain his partnership with IYI Party leader Meral Akşener. Furthermore, he has to keep the CHP members and base from engaging in actions or discourses that could trigger restrictive responses on the part of the government, threatening liberties, and democracy. 

Erdoğan has no easy feat ahead

The economy is the most important challenge ahead. Before the outbreak’s influence, the government was boasting a 4.5 percent growth in the first quarter of the year (instead of the expected 6 percent). This, however, wasn’t convincing enough to the investors and suppliers. The real scale of unemployment will become apparent once workplaces reopen. There are also concerns about serious employments contractions in the service industry, notably in the construction, tourism, and transportation sectors. There is no sign yet that a proposal for economic regulation will come. We only know of the proposal to seize CHP shares at İş Bank. And there are some loan packages, meaning one thing only: more debt.

Several issues link the problem in the economy to foreign policy. The S-400 issue is the most prominent. Erdoğan postponed the “activation”, that is, the inclusion of the Russian missiles in the Turkish Armed forces system, due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump expects from President Erdoğan a commitment to never use S-400s, threatening Turkey with economic sanctions. This approach not only hinders Turkey’s national sovereignty but may also block expected investments from the European Union. And it’s a mystery what Trump, who has launched an election campaign amid intensifying racial discrimination and police violence, as well as unrest in the US, will do to help Erdoğan in this regard. On the other hand, with the influence of the Syrian policy thus far, alongside the US, Russia, too, has become our southern neighbor. Photos of battleships bearing Russian flags are being published in the media. Turkey’s intervention in Libya has somewhat eased the situation but it’s still critical. 

Yet, following Brexit, this is just the right time for Turkey to seek new ground for relations with the EU, which suffered from a heavy COVID shock. Though it’s apparent that certain circles in Turkey don’t want this to happen, which is apparent through their provocative actions. For the rapprochement with the EU, which is crucial for Turkey’s economy, democratic rights mustn’t shrink: they must expand. 

Discomfort within the AKP

As mentioned above, Kılıçdaroğlu must walk slow and steady, careful not to disrupt a delicate triple balance. Erdoğan is in a similar situation. He has to deal with a web of problems in the economy and foreign policy, all intertwined. He also has to maintain the Party-cabinet-Presidency balance, and avoid angering his MHP partner in the meantime. With the opening of the Parliament, Erdoğan wants to alter a few rules and regulations before going into the AKP Congress. And never mind the flashy statements. There is a sense of discomfort stemming from the fact that a narrow team within the Presidency carries out and controls all AKP-related political actions. Many also find it unpleasant that deputies can no longer influence the government’s executive powers, due to the Presidential Government System. Aside from a few ministers, the others in the cabinet don’t count for much. Let’s put aside Health Minister Fahrettin Koca, he currently stands out because of the fight against the epidemic. The influential figures in the cabinet are, in the order of their first names: Minister of Justice Abdülhamit Gül, Treasury and Finance Minister Berat Albayrak (who is also the President’s son-in-law), National Defense Minister Hukusi Akar, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, and Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu whose popularity soars each passing day. National Intelligence Organisation (MIT) Director Hakan Fidan also has a certain bearing. But we can observe something stirring before the AKP Congress. As you know, AKP members aren’t without options anymore. Ali Babacan and Ahmet Davutoğlu, with their new parties, are ready to greet them with open arms.

To protect the delicate balances, Erdoğan may try to consolidate his power by restricting liberties (including freedom of the press and expression) a little more; this is a common mistake that many governments have fallen for before. Moreover, in doing this, he may take some inspiration from the oppressive environment engulfing the US and the EU. It would be wrong but there is a possibility. 

The legal regulations that will be brought to the agenda of the Parliament as of 2 June are therefore important.