Friday, August 29, 2008

Miltary in the Public Sphere

The following analysis from Emrullah Uslu at EDM is a bit bold, but certainly something is to be said of the changing relationship between Prime Minister Erdoğan and the TSK, especially now that Başbuğ is at the helm.
In recent months the visibility of military generals in the public sphere has increased, creating the impression that Turkey has two legislative and two executive bodies, one elected civilian and one military. Former minister Hasan Celal Guzel claims that the civilian Prime Minister Erdogan is, in fact, subservient to the military Prime Minister Basbug (Today’s Zaman, October 27). Three interrelated issues have made the military visible in the public sphere. First, the way the new Chief of Turkish General Staff, General Ilker Basbug performs his job makes him and his staff more visible. Second, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) has increased its terror campaign, which has brought the military into the spotlight once again. Third, since the Ergenekon trial began, alleged ties between Ergenekon and the armed forces have also affected the public visibility of the military.

. . . .

Basbug’s way of dealing with the media and public has made him the subject of news reports. Especially his angry appearance in his press conference on October 16 placed him in the center of a controversy. Thus, political observers have started thinking of him as the second prime minister.

In contrast to his predecessor General Yasar Buyukanit, who in his last period in office was harshly criticized for being docile with regard to the policies of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), Basbug has established a good relationship with the AKP. Since Basbug took office, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has followed Basbug’s policies. When the TSK paid a visit to Ergenekon suspects in prison, Erdogan expressed surprising support for the TSK’s decision (Zaman, September 5). Erdogan continued to back Basbug after his angry press conference, stating, "Some people use ugly expressions such as saying that I am the prime minister of the General Staff. We are a state. I am a Turkish citizen" (Today’s Zaman, October 18). Moreover, for the first time in the history of the Turkish republic, the Chief of General Staff and other top commanders attended a cabinet meeting on October 27. Turkish Daily News (TDN) stated that “This is a very extraordinary situation, because nowhere in the Turkish Constitution or laws is there a clause defining under what conditions the top commander or commanders can participate in Cabinet meetings and what additional powers their participation provides to that Cabinet meeting”(TDN, October 27)

The military has not been this visible in public since the February 28 “soft coup.” This visibility could lead to an election setback for the AKP, at least in Turkey’s Kurdish regions. Many people who supported the AKP in the July 22, 2007, elections are dissatisfied because they feel that the AKP is becoming the party of Ankara not the party of the people (Star, October 19). It is very likely that the AKP could lose in Kurdish cities in the forthcoming election in March 2009, if voters associate Erdogan with the military. An AKP loss in the Kurdish regions would give a big boost to Kurdish nationalists, which neither Erdogan nor Basbug would like to see.
For full analysis, click here.

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