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Erdogan envisions Turkish power center at his palace 26 février 2015

Posted by Acturca in Middle East / Moyen Orient, Turkey / Turquie.
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The Washington Times (USA) Thursday, February 26, 2015, p. A1

By Jacob Resneck, Istanbul, Special to The Washington Times

Domestic strife hinders help for U.S. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has a vision for a “new Turkey” where he would preside over the country and build a regional military, political and cultural powerhouse from his sprawling new $600 million presidential palace in the capital of Ankara.

But brawls in parliament over Mr. Erdogan’s proposal to give more power to the security services, growing charges of his authoritarianism and blowback over his perceived reluctance to confront the Islamic State militants have become hurdles in the way of Turkish leader’s lofty strongman ambitions.

At a time when the Obama administration could desperately use Ankara’s aid in its struggles across the Turkish border in Iran and the Syrian-based Islamic State, Turkey and its Islamist president seem far more consumed by domestic strife and internal political struggles than by the broader violence and rising chaos in the region it once dreamed of dominating.

p. A13

“When you put all things together, the place of the president seems not particularly secure,” Bilgi University political scientist Ilter Turan told The Washington Times. “The president seems to be in a paranoid mood where he sees a conspiracy against him and his government often backed by foreign powers.”

Mr. Erdogan, who has dominated the Turkish political scene for more than a decade as prime minister and now as president, is pushing a security bill that would allow for arbitrary searches, detentions without charges and liberal rules of engagement that would allow police to use live ammunition at demonstrations if protesters hurl Molotov cocktails and provoke other violence.

Turkey’s opposition parties and international human rights groups have condemned the proposal. In a country once seen as a model for Islamic democracy in the region, heated exchanges among lawmakers debating the bill devolved into fisticuffs and thrown chairs in parliament twice last week.

“Widening the scope of when police may use firearms against protesters is dangerous and out of step with U.N. guidelines on the use of force by law enforcement,” Freedom House activist Susan Corke said in a recent statement. “It is no exaggeration to say that the future of Turkish democracy hangs in the balance with this law.”

Despite the embarrassing violence in parliament, Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party, known as the AKP, which advocates for a greater role for Islam in Turkish society, remains committed to expanding the power of the security services in the run-up to June parliamentary elections. Critics say the move is Mr. Erdogan’s attempt to consolidate power.

Mr. Erdogan was a member of the Justice and Development Party when he was prime minister, but he resigned from the party because the Turkish presidency is technically a nonpartisan office. Now Mr. Erdogan is seeking an absolute majority of Justice and Development Party lawmakers to amend the Turkish Constitution to create a strong executivestyle presidency that his supporters claim would strengthen Turkey’s regional clout.

“A presidential system introduces a stable and effective form of government that allows the executive to design long-term projects, realizing them without facing bureaucratic hindrances, and respond quickly to emerging crises,” columnist Ali Aslan wrote recently in the pro-government Sabah newspaper.

But support for a strong presidency is shaky even among Mr. Erdogan’s electoral allies.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who served as foreign minister when Mr. Erdogan was prime minister, has not endorsed the idea. Turkey’s former president, who co-founded the Justice and Development Party with Mr. Erdogan, has counseled against it.

Their silence could reflect cracks in the ruling party. As the first directly elected president of Turkey, Mr. Erdogan has transformed the position. He continues to use the bully pulpit to advocate for policies, and he reportedly tries to wield influence over Mr. Davutoglu.

“In Ankara’s political backstage, it has been whispered for some time that Erdogan wants Davutoglu to consult with him before important government decisions, which usually means getting his approval,” veteran journalist Murat Cetkin said in the Hurriyet Daily News on Tuesday.

Geopolitical woes

In addition to increasing domestic opposition, Mr. Erdogan is facing geopolitical problems. He has come under for fire for his reluctance to sanction military action against the Islamic State, whose fighters have taken over Iraqi and Syrian territory bordering Turkey. Turkish forces also are maintaining a precarious cease-fire with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, a group calling for political autonomy, language rights and other protections for Turkey’s ethnic Kurd minority.

Mr. Erdogan’s dovish stance toward the Islamic State came under fire after Turkey sent tanks and troops into Syria on Sunday to evacuate 38 Turkish soldiers guarding an Ottoman-era tomb that Turkey considers its sovereign territory under a 1921 agreement. The Turkish guards had been cut off for months by Islamic State militants. After the overnight operation, Mr. Erdogan made pains to defend the decision to withdraw the encircled troops and not to fight to hold the ground.

“The Suleyman Sah tomb operation is not a retreat; it is a temporary move in order not to risk soldiers’ lives,” Mr. Erdogan said Monday. “The game of those who tried to use the tomb and our soldiers to blackmail Turkey has been disrupted.”

The Turkish government was also quick to deny reports that the operation was coordinated with Syrian Kurdish militants allied to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, but the political damage was apparent.

“There is bound to be some doubts even among Justice and Development Party supporters given what is surfacing about the operation and the degree to which Ankara cooperated with Syrian Kurdish forces that are allied with the Kurdistan Workers,” columnist Semih Idiz wrote Tuesday in the Hurriyet Daily News.

Human rights concerns and differing perspectives on the crisis in Syria — Turkey is far more concerned with ousting Syrian President Bashar Assad than in taking on the Islamic State — also have strained tied with the United States. Mr. Erdogan has been bitingly critical of the U.S.-led campaign in Iraq and Syria against the Islamic State and the prominent role the Kurds have played in the war.

President Obama and Mr. Erdogan, “once amicable partners who held regular phone chats, now differ so starkly on the Syrian war that they avoid regular contact,” Soner Cagaptay, a Turkish analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, wrote in an analysis this month asking whether the U.S.-Turkish alliance was crumbling.

Compounding Mr. Erdogan’s problems is that Hakan Fidan, his chief of intelligence, resigned this month, presumably to enter politics as a Justice and Development parliamentarian, a position that would give him immunity from prosecution.

“Everyone has immunity except him and he’s doing the dirty jobs,” Koray Caliskan, a professor of political science at Bosphorus University, said in an interview.

Mr. Fidan, whom Mr. Erdogan has called his closest confidant and keeper of secrets, reportedly resigned over the president’s objections. The move suggests that the Turkish president’s inner circle could be shrinking and rivals may be vying for influence in the party he founded, which has ruled the country for 13 years.

Still, the Justice and Development Party remains the most popular political group in the country. A string of corruption scandals that targeted members of Mr. Erdogan’s Cabinet in December 2013 did not substantially hurt the party in last year’s municipal elections or deny Mr. Erdogan’s victory as president.

But it’s doubtful that voters in the June elections will deliver the support the party needs to alter the constitution and cement Mr. Erdogan’s rule.

“The current trends would point to a victory by the Justice and Development Party,” Mr. Turan told The Washington Times. “The question is what kind of victory that will be. The president desires a very overwhelming victory, and that seems not to be possible at the moment.”

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