The “Hidden” That Never Was

The “Hidden” That Never Was

May 2012

After a decade of undisputed power, AKP can no longer be accused of pursuing a hidden agenda. The agenda was never hidden; it was actually obvious.

“A hidden agenda…” has always been one of the overriding themes that underlay the debate between those opposing the AKP administration and the pro-AKP political actors. Since AKP assumed power in 2002, an important segment of the civil society, not to mention international circles, provided an unquestioned support for the political standing of AKP. It was credited for being a liberalizing and emancipating force in Turkish politics. On the other hand, a certain group within the opposing block always advocated that behind the public standing and official declared agenda of AKP leadership, there existed a “hidden agenda” aiming to transform the very foundations of the Republic it rules.

AKP leadership, in particular, observed the progress of this debate very closely but never involved the party in any direct way. It was only on certain occasions that Prime Minister Erdogan addressed this issue, often in a cynical way, and labeled the on-going debate as a totally speculative, unfounded topic of discussion. He argued in all domestic and international platforms that this debate lacked any real substance and, as such, was undeserved. He condemned it and stated that it served no purpose to any of the “grand objectives and ideals” that lay ahead of the country in the years to come.

 

Looking back, we see that the prime minister was right. The impact of this debate has proved totally ineffective in the direction and substance of the developments under the AKP administration to date. Ironically, what is equally noteworthy is that the recent developments indicate that claims of the opposition were also far from being speculative and unfounded: they were merely voicing the obvious.

The government took a constitutional route to effectively nullify the independence of the judiciary branch, subjecting it to the authority of the executive branch of the State.

AKP has come out as the winner in two successive general elections since 2002, claiming full adherence to the fundamental constitutional principles of the Republic. These principles define the country; a democratic, secular and social state under the rule of law. Normally, any democratically elected government, accepting the constitutional framework that enables its success in coming to power would be expected to preserve, at best, and even to further nourish these very principles. The case of the existing constitution in Turkey is certainly an exception. Although amended numerous times during the last 30 years, the current constitution is the outcome of the military rule in 1980; and, as such, requires no partial revisions but a complete re-doing of the whole governing philosophy and the mechanics of the constitutional foundations of the political regime in Turkey. That the need, therefore, for a complete overhaul of the constitutional framework remains a critical political task that any administration with democratic aspirations would face in Turkey today.

Yet, looking at the developments in other parts of our geography, and, mindful of the social, economic, historic and cultural fabric of the Turkish society, the fact remains that full preservation and strengthening of the founding principles of the Republic are vital in preserving the peace and progress in the country. It is at this point that quite a significant segment of the public has started questioning the sincerity of AKP administration, and, the claim of a “hidden agenda” are now overshadowing the political scene.

One of the most distinctive examples of AKP’s bypass of the principle of rule of law, as would be never be the case under any democratic regime, was exhibited in the case of the referendum in 2010 regarding a number of constitutional amendments. The government took a constitutional route to effectively nullify the independence of the judiciary branch, subjecting it to the authority of the executive branch of the State, i.e. instituting an unconstitutional act through the use of constitutional instruments. Controversially, the package had an assortment of items covering a very wide range of critical constitutional issues which were voted for in bulk, as part of a whole package, rather than one by one. This itself was an undemocratic approach, not so common in any other constitutional system in the world.

Yet the package’s most critical items were the ones regarding Turkey’s judicial system. The government’s aim here was to re-structure and re-design the whole infrastructure and functioning of the supreme court system in the judiciary branch, making it subject to the administrative directives of the executive branch in the system.

Several political parties, most notably the main opposition CHP, civil society elements and individuals had objected to this cunning move that bypassed the fundamental principles of separation of powers. However, the government, relying solely on the number votes generated in support of the whole referendum package, minded not the substance of the objections voiced by the opposition but gleefully achieved its objective to streamline the court system under its administrative command.

Was this an election promise or part of a previously announced political program by the ruling party? No. Did this initiative come as a surprise to careful observers of the AKP spokespeople at the time? No. So, could anyone call this initiative as part of a “hidden agenda” or as a rather “expected step” by the government? Certainly, the latter; an already expected action, another step toward consolidating AKP’s grip over all centers of power that constituted the state mechanism in the country.

In recent weeks, the ruling party passed a legislation in the Parliament, as part of a law on various administrative undertakings, freeing up highly speculated and controversial privatization transactions so they can be exempt from being challenged through courts. The law envisages that a number of selected privatization transactions that were already approved by the high economic committee in the past, would proceed without and judicial blockage. As such, the government, with this law, bypassed the oversight responsibility of the judiciary over the executive branch. It effectively took a legislative action that established openly inappropriate legal status for certain parties of economic interest through, again, the use of perfectly legal instruments on perfectly legitimate grounds.

Was this an election promise or part of a previously announced program that privatization transactions would no longer be subject to legal oversight in this country? No. Did this action, then, come as a surprise to careful observers of the AKP spokespeople at the time? No. So, could anyone call this action as part of a “hidden agenda” or as a rather “expected step” by the government? Certainly, the latter; an already expected action, another step toward consolidating AKP’s grip over the process in re-distribution of capital, economic power that the party has been vehemently working to achieve since it assumed office a decade ago.

AKP had never addressed this radical and far-reaching issue of education reform as part of the party program nor in any election campaign documentation nor as part of any other policy papers during its 10-year rule in the country.

In a similar move, the parliament added a certain provision in one of the laws that were being discussed in the parliament that would enable to government to extend the tenure of the head of the deposit insurance fund, the bank resolution agency in the country. This move, in and of itself, appears as a routine administrative action, involving the appointment or re-appointment of one of several thousands of government employees in the civil service. Not quite so. First of all, the particular public agency is established and governed by a special law that specifically defines the tenure of the head of the agency. This law also defines this agency as an autonomous entity, not under the auspices of the government. By passing a law, specifically undoing these two critical provisions and specific to a name, the administration, aside from overtly questioning once again the autonomous nature of independent regulatory agencies, has created a highly questionable post within the bureaucracy in legal terms through the use of perfectly legal grounds and instruments. Was this an election promise or part of a previously announced program that autonomous regulatory agencies would be subject to direct government authority; and, be governed not by their respective laws but by other legislation as and when deemed necessary, including, if need be, specific-to-name legislative actions in this country? No. Did this action, then, come as a surprise to observers of the AKP spokespeople? No. So, could anyone call this action as part of a “hidden agenda” or as a rather “expected step” by the government? Certainly, the latter; an already expected action, another step toward consolidating AKP’s grip over the independent regulatory bodies with decision-making responsibility in critical crossings of the economy in the country.

The case of the legislative process that changed the primary education system in the country during the last month constituted a historic example of how AKP administration would point-blank target the fundamental pillars of the existing system. As the country woke up to an ordinary business day, an AKP spokesperson officially stated on national tv that the ruling party would be submitting a proposal to the parliament that would fundamentally transform the subtance, form and philosophy of the Turkey’s mandatory education system between 1st and 12 th grades.

This transformation meant a total overhaul of the education system with far-reaching implications well into decades to come; and, it was being announced to the public as if it were a simple administrative measure, involving merely a procedural matter during the ordinary course of daily office business of one of the MPs. The proposal entailed a 3-phase primary and secondary education system in what was formulated as 4+4+4, breaking away from the current 8+4 system. As such, the new system would enable the student to branch out to so called “vocational route” after the first 4 years, without the full benefit of the 8-year “secular route” in primary education. The system would also provide the student to continue his/her primary education after the 4th year at home and take exams from outside the school system.

Arguments on the merits or demerits of the new system would naturally require a much detailed and comprehensive analysis than the limits of this article. What is more important and vitally relevant to note, though, is the fact that this legislative step had not been a topic or even a footnote in any of the public documents the ruling party had published to date. AKP had never addressed this radical and far-reaching issue of education reform as part of the party program nor in any election campaign documentation nor as part of any other policy papers during its 10-year rule in the country. This, regarding the substance of the legislative proposal.

The methodology, on the other hand, in passing this law was the subject of yet another unprecedented example of outright disregard for all accepted modes of conduct in parliamentary behaviour anywhere in the world. The sub-committee work, which functions as the center of expertise and technical assessment of legislative proposals prior to reaching the floor of the parliament, were given a short-cut; over 20 articles of the proposed law was accepted in less than 20 minutes. Subsequently, the proposed legislative action was made law in a heated rush within two weeks of its original announcement.

Two important notes regarding this speedy process: This dramatic transformation in the educational system in the country was undertaken within weeks after the prime minister declared in his address to the youth organization of his party that AKP would be aiming to create a “religious youth”. Secondly it was put in law that the curriculum in primary education would include courses on the life and teachings of “our” prophet; Mohammad. Was this an election promise or part of a previously announced program that the education system would be subjected to a total overhaul solely in line with the vision of the ruling party forced on the parliament as opposed to reaching a broad-based consensus in all related segments of the academia and the interested public? No. Did this action, then, come as a surprise to many observers of the AKP spokespeople? No. So, could anyone call this action as part of a “hidden agenda” or as a rather “expected step” by the government? Certainly, the latter: an already expected action, another step toward broadening the social base of the AKP’s political program through intervening in the educational system in the country.

None of the above examples and other similar cases has really been met with a strong public resistance nor have any political observers displayed any serious signs of surprise in view of these developments. This is an important fact to reckon with that AKP administration indeed has never maintained nor she maintains today a hidden agenda in its policy objectives. These objectives have always been and are made clear by the rank-and-file managers of the Party as well as by its leadership at the headquarters level.

What is, on the other hand, not clear and, therefore could be regarded as hidden, in a way, involves the timing of these policy actions. The critical question to follow here is not the question of what, i.e. the substance of AKP’s thinking but the question of when, i.e. the timing for the implementation of the Administration’s already pronounced policies during the flow of events in the political scene. Therefore, it is imperative that we understand and respond to the body of thoughts that underlying AKP and bonds it together as a political organization in its totality. This would be an alternative and the right approach as opposed to following its policy actions one by one and reacting to them on the basis of each individual case which creates the real risk of losing touch with the “big picture” as some often end up doing.

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