BUILDING BRIDGES

Turkey 2011 | DIPLOMACY | REVIEW: DIPLOMACY & POLITICS

The Republic of Turkey is a representative democracy governed by the principles of social justice and secularism. Resurgent on the world stage, the country is overcoming diplomatic challenges and is strengthening ties with its neighbors.

Having played a major role in the economic history and democratic development of Europe, it is no surprise that the Republic of Turkey stands as a shining example to the region as a country that would be the second largest democracy by population and the sixth largest economy by GDP in the EU. Power in the country is focused on the legislative branch—the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TGNA)—and balanced through a tripartite system with the executive, including the Council of Ministers and the President, being accountable to the judiciary. Led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the incumbent government is controlled by the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), which is seen as a champion of mainstream conservative politics, first coming to power in a sweeping 2002 election victory. It claimed victory again in the June 2011 general election, with 326 of its candidates entering parliament. The main opposition, the Republican People's Party (CHP), is the foremost party of the center-left, and claimed 135 seats, generally seen as a successful result and a result that will strengthen the leadership credentials of its head, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. Other significant parties include the conservative Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which held onto 53 seats despite a pre-election scandal. The Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), whose core support is in the southeast of the country, claimed 5.9% of the vote in the elections and entered parliament with independents in order to overcome the 10% threshold. The election was seen as positive for the markets, and positive for all parties involved, with the formation of stronger blocks within the political system as the CHP strengthened its position and the overall political scene saw a consolidation.

The current constitution was drawn up in 1982 following a military coup, and was amended in a referendum held in 2010 that was largely seen as a test of the AK Party's popularity. The amendment now gives the TGNA and President, who acts as a national figurehead and protector of the constitution, a greater say in the composition of the powerful Constitutional Court. The AK Party's reform vote received the backing of Western nations, with President Obama commenting on the “vibrancy of Turkey's democracy", while Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos stated that the referendum sent a “clear signal of Turkey's European vocation". The AK Party will now need to gain consensus in parliament for a more comprehensive constitutional overhaul after it fell short of the 367 members of parliament it needed to make unilateral changes in the June 2011 general election.

FOREIGN RELATIONS

After passing through the 2008/9 global economic crisis relatively unscathed, the government saw the need to deepen economic ties with its non-European neighbors as the demand for Turkish products saw a decline in its main European trading partners. Headed up by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, Turkey is pursuing a so-called “zero problems with neighbors" policy, aimed at building closer regional ties, while on the other hand seeking EU recognition. Significant milestones were achieved including the end of visa restrictions with Syria, and a landmark deal to mend relations with Armenia. The result of this drive has been a 14% increase in exports to neighboring and periphery countries in 2010 in year-on-year terms reaching $49.2 billion, as Turkey's Minister of State for Foreign Trade, Zafer Çağlayan, told TBY in an interview.

The AK Party's desire to see Turkey join the EU is also unwavering despite a drop in public support for accession, mostly seen to be a result of the consistent discouraging remarks from some quarters of the EU's leadership. The country's membership application has been given a boost, however, with British Prime Minister David Cameron pledging his support for the bid, and the EU's 2010 Turkey Progress Report showing that the country has made headway on all the active chapters under negotiation. Shortly before the June 2011 election, Prime Minister Erdoğan also announced a shake up of government ministries, including the creation of a Ministry for the European Union, and this is widely seen as another signal of the AK Party's continued drive for membership.

THE BALANCE OF POWER

The administration in Turkey is based on the principles of centralization and local administration, and is broadly divided into a familiar structure of legislative, executive, and judicial bodies. The central administration is comprised of the Prime Minister's Office and the other ministries, and they have the duty to uphold the rule of law.

The Republic of Turkey has operated under a multi-party political system since 1946, and legislative power is vested in the TGNA, which comprises 550 deputies popularly elected every five years in a proportional representation system. The Prime Minister, who nominates the Council of Ministers, is the head of government and is ceremoniously appointed by the President from among the members of the TGNA.

The current President of Turkey is Abdullah Gül, elected by members of the TGNA to office in 2007. In a constitutional amendment drafted in 2007, future presidents will be elected through a public vote. The President is the head of state, and has appointive powers independent of the Council of Ministers. The President is empowered to appoint members of the Constitutional Court, one-quarter of the members of the Council of State, the highest administrative court in Turkey, and various other posts including certain members of the civil and military courts. The President also presides over the National Security Council, a body that contains civilian as well as military members. The executive is accountable to the judiciary, including the Constitutional Court. The fundamental function of the Constitutional Court is to protect and improve human rights and basic freedoms and to determine the constitutionality of the laws, decrees, and rules of procedure of the TGNA. It is composed of 11 regular and four substitute members, designated according to special procedures and quotas from the chairmen and the members of the Supreme Court of Appeals, the Council of State, the Supreme Military Court of Appeals, the Supreme Military Administrative Court, the Supreme Council of Public Accounts, and also academics, lawyers, and senior administrators.

LOCAL GOVERNMENT

Turkey is divided into 81 provinces, each administered by a centrally appointed governor. The 1982 constitution maintains the country's centralized administrative system, with governors acting as the principal agents of the central government and reporting to the Ministry of Interior. At a provincial level, the governor is responsible for health and social assistance, public works, agriculture, culture and education, and economic and commercial matters. Each provincial capital and town of more than 2,000 people is defined as a municipality and headed by a mayor, elected popularly every five years and assisted by deputy directors of departments and offices to decide on the budget, housing plans, reconstruction programs, tax rates, and fees for municipal services.

The role of the provincial governor is to supervise government officials assigned to carry out ministerial functions in the province. These directors form provincial administrative councils with the governor as head, and carry out key administrative decisions. The governor also heads the provincial assembly, the members of which are elected every five years and meet yearly to approve the provincial budget and select a member to hold weekly consultations with the governor.

Each district in a province also has its own administration based in the district seat. This administration consists of a district chief, central government representatives, and an administration board. The district chief is responsible to the governor and is tasked with supervising the activities of government officials in the district. In provincial capitals, the district is sometimes headed directly by the governor, with sub-directors being appointed by the minister of interior on the nomination of the governors.

The smallest unit of local government is the village, defined as a locality with fewer than 2,000 inhabitants. The principal authority in a village is the headman, who is elected by an informal assembly of all the village's adults and is tasked with maintaining order and collecting taxes. This assembly also elects a council of elders, which is charged with supervising finances and other public affairs.

TRADE & RELATIONS

Western commentators are keen to dramatize Turkey's interaction with either its Western or Eastern neighbors as defining in its overall foreign policy, yet the government has been ardent in stating that its relations with each bloc are not mutually exclusive. Egemen Bağış, Minister of EU Affairs and Chief Negotiator, told TBY that “On the contrary…Turkey is not where East and West are divided, but where East and West come together."

Turkey has embarked upon a mission of reconciliation with its neighbors and has forged long-lasting trade relationships in the region that stand to benefit the country's economy as the government looks to tackle the current account deficit. Turkey's overall foreign trade level is increasing, and there was a 23% year-on-year increase in trade with the Balkan, Middle East, and Caucasus regions in 2010, Zafer Çağlayan, Turkish Minister of State for Foreign Trade, told TBY. The EU's share in total exports from Turkey, although declining in its overall share, is 46.3%.

The AK Party is pushing ahead full steam with EU accession negotiations despite voiced opposition to full membership from the French and Austrian leaders. Turkey's efforts for regional stability, its relations with EU-members states—and particularly ties with Greece—as well as the Turkish economy's resilience to the global crisis were some of the issues highlighted in the 2010 Turkey Progress Report, Minister Bağış told TBY. The country's status as an energy hub for the region is also helping to strengthen ties with the EU, Caucasus, and Middle East alike. Such ties are being cemented through diplomatic missions, including visits by Prime Minister Erdoğan to the Gulf and Northern Iraq in early 2011.

Turkey has also taken on the mantle of becoming a regional mediator, with Turkish diplomats mediating between Israel and Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and liaising with Sunni militants in Iraq in 2009. In addition, the Turkish government has sought to put the country on the diplomatic map as the secretary-general of the OIC and co-chairman of the Alliance of Civilizations. Furthermore, Istanbul hosted the first annual “Leaders of Change" summit in 2011—heralded as an alternative Davos by Prime Minister Erdoğan—with the event attracting esteemed political and economic speakers from around the world. The country is also playing a significant part in the G20 as well as NATO, an organization in which Turkey boasts the second largest armed forces. In late 2010 Turkey played a key role in the formulation of a missile defense system agreement, easing concerns in the Middle East as to aim of the project.