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THE CORRİDOR : Will Toptan be nominated?

And of course current Parliament Speaker Köksal Toptan wants to keep his seat for another two years. But who willl Erdoğan prefer? Who will take the number two seat in ? At this point, it is a good idea to make a quick recap of the past. After the July 22, 2007 general elections, Erdoğan became prime minister and Abdullah Gül became a candidate for president. A center-right name was needed between these two National Viewers. Back then, the approach was assessed that the AKP wanted to send a message to laics or get closer to the center because Toptan of the center-right was preferred for the seat of Parliament speaker. He was a veteran politician who had served together with the former President Süleyman Demirel and was nominated for the True Path Party, or DYP, leadership. Since his wife was not wearing a headscarf, this was read as “sensitivity towards laicism.”

Today, the big picture in the AKP suggests that unless something unexpected happens, Toptan will become the AKP’s nominee again. Balances inside the party give him the opportunity. Another balance factor is identical with the reason why Toptan was selected two years ago: that is, he is from the center-right. A similar discussion took place as Bülent Arınç and Nihat Ergün were included in the Cabinet. Influence of the “National View” in the Council of Ministers was stressed following the reshuffle. In such a critical period, it is most likely that Erdoğan will prefer Toptan in order to remain outside a new set of discussions. His two-year performance increases Toptan’s chance. Even a single example is enough; the “mine bill” discussions for instance…

The Republican People’s Party, or CHP, raised hell during the discussions and Toptan’s impartiality was questioned for leading the talks. And of course, his giving support to the AKP in the last two years in some other issues was also criticized. Toptan is most likely the winner. If Erdoğan doesn’t make a surprise bid, the Parliament Speaker will be Toptan again. I am afraid, former ministers having eyes on the seat will have to be satisfied with having six years of experience in the Cabinet.

Questions remain unanswered

In the 23rd legislative term, Parliament got involved in plenty of legislation. A total of 233 laws were enacted in two years. Of 416 motions of investigation, only 58 were approved and eight investigation committees were formed. Deputies, on various issues, submitted a total of 8,587 motions of question, only 4,144 of which found an answer. The picture shows that most of the questions asked by Parliamentary deputies to the government remain unanswered. Parliament falling short of monitoring activities was also questioned. Ministers not answering or avoiding questions caused criticisms that Parliament fails in the monitoring process. Even in the AKP group, deputies lamented that ministers were aloof to motions for question. Apparently, this problem will occur again in the upcoming period as well because Parliament will be involved in many legislative activities in the new legislative term; the first to be handled will be the Trade and Debts Law drafts containing hundreds of articles.

Genç’s humorous suggestion to Evren

The discussion of "Judging generals involved in the Sept. 12 military coup" continues at full speed. Tunceli Independent Deputy Kamer Genç was a member of the Advisory Council of the Sept. 12 administration. As he was reminded that the top commander of the Sept. 12 process and the former President Kenan Evren said that he would commit suicide if he is put before the judge, Genç was quick to respond: "He shouldn’t raise other’s hope for nothing. Let him not wait even for a minute. If he wants to commit suicide, let him… Number of responsible of the Sept. 12 process is Evren and he should face trial..."

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Parties facing a test of ’freedom to politicians’ in the near future

Political parties were dissolved, politicians were punished, and thoughts that were disliked were banned! With the European Union’s pressure, we have just begun to make some progress in the issue. Even if at snail speed, obstacles in front of freedom of thought are being removed. But is this enough?

Industry Minister Nihat Ergun says it is not. During a breakfast we had together, Ergun took a further step and said, "Politicians have no freedom of thought." He justified this by saying, "Politicians have to think very carefully and then say it so. We constantly think ’What if I am being misunderstood, what if I was noticed by the prosecutor, what if I am taken to the court.’ É The only think we have as politicians is freedom of expression. But politicians in Turkey are the most aggrieved in the matter of freedom of thought."

I am especially interested in a particular remark he made, "what if I am noticed by a prosecutor." What does he mean by that? As the documents with the claims of coup attempts fly around high in particular. ...Ergun continued: "With a single directive from a prosecutor, a party closure case can be filed. But Parliament should decide for a parliament deputy’s to be put in a trial. A prosecutor can pave the way for the closure of a party, the dismissal of a deputy and even the closure of Parliament. If the Constitutional Court had closed down the Justice and Development Party [or AKP] and dropped 300 deputies, wouldn’t Parliament have been shut down?"

Ergun questions the constitutional system allowing political party closures. According to him, this "oppressive" and "prohibitive" understanding prevents politicians from coming up with new thoughts. Constitutional regulations on the closure of political parties play a role in the existence of vicious cycles and the feeling among party members that they are not free, Ergun said. "Serious revisions are necessary in the subject," he said. "Politicians should act together." Apparently, Ergun signals new constitutional changes in the fall to liberate politicians and make party closures difficult. We’ll see. Which parties will pass the "freedom to politicians" test?

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Turkey and Azerbaijan: Passion, principle or pragmatism? (II)

By the end of the decade, the Turkish military was viewed as the most reliable and predictable counterpart in the country. It did not take long for Russia to reconsolidate its position, leaving Turkey with a limited sphere of influence. But there were also successes. As a counterbalance to Russia and Iran, Turkey’s presence in the region was largely supported by the United States. The Baku-Ceyhan pipeline was a major accomplishment in this sense and Turkey’s overt intent to become an energy hub has since become a significant part of its strong relations with Azerbaijan.

In Central Asia, though, most of the momentum fizzled. This is the backdrop against which a Turkish NGO leader said last week, explaining why Turkey should not allow relations with Azerbaijan to spiral downward: "Azerbaijan is the last one left. Central Asia has been long lost. If Azerbaijan slips away too, it will be the final and complete blow to the Turkic solidarity rhetoric sounded so boldly by Turkey in the early 1990s."

It is important to recognize that the recent questioning in Azerbaijan of Turkey’s central standing reaches beyond the feeling that Turkey has betrayed Azerbaijan in its dealings with Armenia. Many politicians, diplomats and analysts have also been taken aback by other shifts in Turkey’s foreign policy in areas such as energy and Black Sea politics. Turkey is expected to use its pivotal position to counterbalance Russia in the region Ğ to at least protect the existing equilibrium rather than tilting the balance further in favor of Moscow.

However, Turkey has moved on to a new paradigm in foreign policy, with more case-by-case basis pragmatism and new ambitions toward being a stand-alone regional power. Lessons have been learned after Turkey blatantly confronted Russia’s interests in the region and, as a result, lost more ground. Moreover, there is skepticism within the Turkish diplomatic corps about the long-term prospects of Western leverage in the region. The continuing emotional rhetoric of absolute unity of purpose between Turkey and Azerbaijan has masked the gradual, but growing divergences.

Disappointment was the most pronounced feeling one could ascertain on the streets of Baku after the Aug. 2008 Russia-Georgia war. "Azerbaijan is not strong enough, but we thought Turkey had the clout to speak out louder about the strangling nature of Russia’s policies in the region," one Azerbaijani said.

Months later, another young Azerbaijani commented: "Who is Turkey courting and why? It is so hard to understand. When [Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan took a strong stance on Gaza and stormed out of the panel with President Peres in Davos, was this passion and principle, or was it pragmatism Ğ and which of these apply to us?"

If the card of shared religion is to be invoked as a uniting factor, one again enters a gray area, as local authorities do not necessarily receive Turkish religious initiatives in Azerbaijan positively. In the town of Sheki in northern Azerbaijan, the only Turkish presence is a school founded by the Gülen movement and locals are divided in their opinions about this establishment.

On the other hand, Turkey’s staunch secularist circles have not left a positive impression in Azerbaijan either. Apparently addressing students in Baku, a Turkish education minister underlined the threat of girls wearing headscarves in university, a comment that triggered a rebellious reaction: The next day, there were many more young women wearing the headscarf in class. "You are exporting your problems to us, not solutions," one diplomat commented. Whether this is an accurate depiction of reality or not, the articulation of Turkey’s influence is telling.

Though there have been successful examples of collaboration in the business sphere, many commercial endeavors have been based on crony relationships and have brought the worst business practices of both countries to the fore, damaging reputations in the process.

Azerbaijani opposition sympathizers from time to time express the grievance that Turkey disregards the real interests of the people by not advocating on human-rights issues or supporting opposition movements in Azerbaijan. In fact, in the 1990s, when Turkey did meddle in Azerbaijani domestic politics Ğ in some cases, using fascist tactics Ğ it was in support of Turkic nationalists that did not have the capacity to survive the domestic and regional challenges they faced at the time.

Azerbaijan has also made questionable choices when it comes to nurturing close relations with people in Turkey. For example, among the ultra-nationalists who are now in dire straits as Turkey cracks down on shady gang-like structures, there are a disproportionate number of advocates of Azerbaijan. Turkey’s domestic power balance has been changing dramatically since the turn of the century. Choices of arguments to make and individuals to liaise with in Turkey made in the 1990s are no longer optimal in Turkey’s current setting. The new realities require a new approach.

Few Azerbaijanis grasp the role the Armenian issue plays in Turkey’s ongoing social and political transformation. And few Turks are aware of how unpredictable Turkey has come across over the years when viewed from Baku, or how Turkey’s various policy moves affect Azerbaijan’s sovereignty. This is why, when faced with the prospect of normalization between Turkey and Armenia in April 2009, negative rhetoric could be so rapidly sparked in the public debate in both Turkey and Azerbaijan. The rhetoric of the two countries being indivisible has prevented an acknowledgement that mutual understanding must be worked on, and has set the stage for mutually unreasonable expectations. Recent tensions should be a wake-up call to various layers in both countries’ policy communities.

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THE CORRIDOR : The Justice and Development Party’s inside ’opposition’ move

Nothing has been the same in the AKP since the Cabinet revision. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan ignored the names that were waiting to have a seat in the Ministers Council. He neither renewed the Central Executive Council nor the Parliamentary Group administration, therefore offending a group of AKP deputies. Problems keep occurring in the party organizations. Province caucuses witness fights. The AKP group administration faces difficulties to work in Parliament despite Erdoğan’s warning "People did not send you here to follow-up business." A former minister directly asks Erdoğan: "The fields are not fertile? Why are we insisting on the landmine bill? Is there anything behind that we don’t know of?" A female deputy is asking, "If everything is handled in the Cabinet why do we have deputies?" A group of AKP representatives is seriously disturbed by the situation. The picture is seen clearer now with the resistance to the landmine bill. Since Erdoğan is not addressing deputies directly, annoyance is spreading. And the situation is naturally being mirrored onto town and province bodies. Two lists were formed in Aksaray and Tekirdağ province conventions though Erdoğan ordered to have "one candidate, single list." As the party administration failed to bring the sides to the agreement, members fought in both conventions. Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan had to return from Aksaray due to the fight inside the convention arena. And the fight in the Tekirdağ caucus took place after State Minister for EU Relations Egemen Bağış left the building. Province conventions will continue until late July. The AKP will hold the grand convention in fall and elect the Central Decision-Making and Executive Council members.

Erdoğan, aware of the disquiet, is taking some measures to prevent a "fight among opponents," which possibly affects the party administration in the grand convention. Erdoğan plans to overcome this process by the "single list" formula without pain. He wants to form "no opponent, no harm" new staff that will carry the party to 2011 elections. The prime minister, in a way, has intentions to bring the inner-party power struggle under control.

Why was the charter change shelved?

Just a month ago, constitutional change was on political agenda. The AKP had set up a commission, reviewed some 10 articles and prepared a draft. The AKP spokesmen were stressing the necessity of a Constitution change as the opposition leaders Deniz Baykal and Devlet Bahçeli were fiercely standing against it. Erdoğan himself announced several articles to be changed: "Via the Venice Criteria making political party closures more difficult, 100 Turkey deputyships, granting the right for individuals to apply to the Constitutional Court and ombudsmanshipÉ" Nowadays we often hear "We’ll bring it in fall." But what happened that the constitutional change was shelved. The AKP had no chance to seek any changes without reaching consensus with the opposition, according to Parliament’s arithmetic. So, is the AKP using the situation knowingly and trying to corner the opposition? Is the AKP planning to create the atmosphere, "They are raising objections to everything," an image of the opposition that they are impossible to reach agreement and convey a message to the European Union? Or is the AKP collecting trump cards against the opposition for a possible election in 2010? Apparently, this fall will be hotter than summerÉ

’Israel’s envoy came for CHP!’

The Republican People’s Party, or CHP, raising objections to the landmine bill, claimed that the cleaning process would be awarded to an Israeli firm. As the bill was being discussed in Parliament the other day, a visitor came to Parliament. Israeli Ambassador to Ankara Gaby Levy, he was. Reporters couldn’t figure out who Levy would visit. In the meantime, CHP İzmir deputy Ahmet Ersin was fiercely reacting against Levy: "They want to mark Parliament. Meaning, the government will award the project to an Israeli firm." Levy ended his visit. As he left the building, CHP Manisa deputy Şahin Mengü was accompanying him. The ambassador was there to visit Mengü not the AKP deputies. The two had Turkish coffee together. Upon hearing it, CHP’s Ersin burst into laughter, "It seems that the ambassador was here for the CHPÉ"

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Reasons behind emerging deep divides in the ruling AKP party

The governing Justice and Development Party, or AKP, has had difficulty in Parliament for the first time despite holding 338 seats there. One of the reasons is the rumor that an Israeli company could be awarded a lease on the land for 44 years after clearing it of mines. The National View front in the AKP is offended by the suggestion. But the "deep resistance" has some other reasons behind it.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan changed more than half of the AKP representatives in the July 22, 2007, general elections. Most of the newcomers were well-known professionals in their own fields and at the beginning, they were eager to make serious contributions in these areas, from law to administration. But in time they have come to feel "dysfunctional" in Parliament and consider themselves only a part of Parliament’s arithmetic. Deputy meetings were not enough to bury the hatchet. With the latest change in the Cabinet, the disturbance hit its peak. And the wave of discontent spread slowlyÉ

Unhappy AKP deputies took advantage of the landmine bill to send a strong message to Erdoğan by not attending General Council meetings. Erdoğan met the parliamentary group and even made a headcount behind closed doors. Over 70 deputies did not attend the meeting.

This was clearly a civil disobedience, one that occurred without even two years passing since the general election. We do not know if Erdoğan and his team will read this message accurately, but if the trouble is not removed, small-scale revolts inside the party may cause other serious problems. In summary, alternatives to Erdoğan exist. If the offended AKP deputies are not convinced and not addressed, Erdoğan could have a headache in the future from the possibly more serious problems.


Was the constitutional change shelved?

Right after the March 29 local polls, the AKP rolled up its sleeves to prepare to make constitutional change. The party’s legal commission made a study and prepared a small package of 10 articles. But following the fierce reactions from the opposition, the AKP did not transfer the package to Parliament. But what will be the fate of this package? Parliament will adjourn for the summer on July 1, and critical legal regulations will be waiting. So a constitutional change over the summer is not likely. Says an influential AKP official: "We are discussing the matter. It will be in Parliament in the fall." But it seems that if there is no "surprise," the AKP’s small package will be shelved until fall.


Parliament’s tough choice

Nobel Prize-winning author Orhan Pamuk and the late Türkan Saylan, the president of the Association for Supporting Contemporary Life, or ÇYDD, were nominated for the Parliament Honorary Award this year. Free Democracy Party, or ÖDP, leader Ufuk Uras nominated Pamuk and CHP deputy Canan Arıtman nominated Saylan. As Parliament does not grant awards to the deceased, Pamuk will probably end up running against some other nominees. According to a Parliament Council member, "Uras cleverly nominated Pamuk. Deputies have to grant the award to Pamuk in order not cause remarks like ’A Nobel Prize winner is not being awarded by Parliament.’" We’ll see if Parliament confers the award on Pamuk.

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Toptan: founding council can be formed for constitutional change

Making it difficult to close political parties and establishing the right for individuals to apply to Parliament, were included in a package presented to PM Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The opposition doesn’t entertain the idea. Then, what will happen in this case? I traveled with Parliament Speaker Köksal Toptan on the Bandırma ship from Istanbul to Samsun and talked about the constitutional changes in detail.

Toptan believes Turkey needs a "civilian constitution." He said a founding council could be formed to conduct the relevant research. Since he cannot have support for that, Toptan added, Parliament is far away from this target today. According to him, CHP leader Deniz Baykal, who implied support for a founding council, does "nothing" in this direction. What is Toptan thinking about limited constitutional changes?

He says if any offer is made by any parties Ğ emphasizing, even if it comes from the DTP Ğhe could evaluate this. "I will take this offer and visit other political parties. And I can say, ’Such and such party suggested this constitutional change, what do you say? Let’s set up a commission of conciliation.’ I can start the process, but it is impossible for me to lead political parties." Upon being reminded that the AKP is working on constitutional change, but the CHP and MHP are reacting against it, Toptan said, "Let’s not lose our hope at all," as a way to send a message to the opposition parties. The parliament speaker stressed that a change is a must for the president’s and Parliament’s terms of office, adding he would visit party leaders for a Parliament bylaw offer.


Veteran politicians uniting in center

President-elect of the Democrat Party, or DP, Hüsamettin Cindoruk, despite his age, has taken the seat for a mission. A political guru, Cindoruk will bring parties to the center until the next local polls Ğ two years from now Ğ in order to establish an alternative to the AKP. For this, Cindoruk will first merge with the Motherland Party, or ANAP, which former DP leader Mehmet Ağar failed to do with ANAP’s former leader Erkan Mumcu.

New ANAP leader Salih Uzun is warm toward this project. A unification commission is on the way. The technical details will be discussed in this commission, which will work to unify the two parties. If there is a strong party in the center, this project shouldn’t be regarded as a project being conducted by only Cindoruk and Uzun. Two veteran politicians are behind this new formation: ninth President Süleyman Demirel and former PM Mesut Yılmaz. We’ll see if the experienced names of the center-right will be able to set up an alternative to the AKP.


Even Toptan uses jammer

Doubts about being phone-tapped are being revealed one after the other. It’s been revealed that after former Chief of General Staff retired Gen. Yaşar Büyükanıt, Toptan is using a special device to prevent tapping. Let’s hear what Toptan says: "I heard that someone in Denizli was making this device. If you place this inside the phone, no signal is being transferred out. I did so. But it ran out of battery, and I threw it away. It’s been 15-20 days. This is not because I am concerned. But let’s see what happens. It really prevents signals out." I think, even at the top of the state, almost everyone thinks they are being tapped.

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