Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Turkish Election Round-Up - June 8th

Syria crisis raises questions for Turkish government

The intensifying conflict in Syria is now becoming an issue for Turkey, as hundreds of civilians from northern Syrian towns flee to Turkey to avoid an army crackdown. Harsh reprisals are expected in Jisr al-Shughour, after the Assad regime claimed that 120 soldiers had been killed by ‘armed gangs’ and ordered elite military units towards the town.

Ankara has pledged that it will not “close its doors” to Syrian refugees, and Turkish ambulances are ferrying wounded civilians across the borders. However Prime Miniser Erdoğan has been uncharacteristically restrained: at a press conference he said that "We wish Syria to be more tolerant to civilians and (further) the reform steps [Assad] has already taken, as soon as possible in a more convincing way." 

This is in line with his softly-softly approach to the unfolding crisis, partly for security reasons, partly because the AKP has no desire to antagonise an important neighbour, and perhaps partly for electoral reasons too. Given that Erdoğan has built much of his image on standing up for Muslim countries against the West and Israel, it would be poor politics to side with the current European-led drive to impose sanctions.

That said, there are signs that Turkey is keeping its options open: a group of Syrian exiles recently held a conference in southern Turkey and will hold another after the election because they “don’t want to put the Turkish government in a tough position,” according to one member.

Cabinet ‘overhaul’ promised

It’s hard to tell if this is intended to be a vote-winner or not. The Prime Minister today announced that the structure of government would be revamped – six ministries would be introduced, eight abolished and a few mergers and changes undertaken. Many changes would be fairly uncontroversial, such as introducing the Family & Social Policies Ministry.

An interesting move is merging the Environment & Forestry Ministry with the Public Works & Housing Ministry into a new Environment, Forestry & Urbanisation Ministry, which could have implications for the country’s embattled environmental activists. It may suggest that the government has acknowledged the impact of urbanisation on the environment and is acting to coordinate policy; conversely, it might mean that the needs of the environmental sector will now be forced to compete with resources and political attention with the need for urban growth.

Raising some eyebrows is the introduction of deputy ministers, which an expert quoted by Hurriyet believes is the first step towards a presidential-style system, largely because this is the case in the United States.

Voice of America Interview with Kılıçdaroğlu

Voice of America has a pretty in-depth interview with CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. The CHP leader stated flatly that the biggest problem facing the electorate was unemployment, a savvy if obvious focus on bread-and-butter issues which his predecessor sometimes lacked.

He shows an admirable level of political nous, throwing in the name of classical economist David Ricardo, acknowledging that no single party could solve the Kurdish issue, and stating that the ‘new’ CHP was moving closer to social democratic principles. Worth a read.

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