Thursday, July 11, 2002

Dervis persuaded to stay

OK, now Turkish President Sezer has talked Dervis into staying, and Ecevit into allowing him to stay, alarmed that his resignation would derail the IMF funded economic reform program. Apparently Ecevit insisted Dervis resign when the special economy minister admitted that he was signing on with foreign minister Cem (who is still resigning) and Ozkan to form a new party. Ecevit is stubborn as hell about staying in power, since he insists resigning will hurt the economic and political reform process. How he expects to continue reforms while he boots out his most important ministers remains to be seen.

The TV is also saying that Dervis revealed that Cem would be the leader of the new party.

Two major resignations

Wow, it's going down fast. Kemal Dervis, the special economy minister and the most critical member of the administration, has resigned hard on the heels of foreign minister Ismail Cem. So the rumors that these two would join up with Ozkan, who resigned Monday, to form a new party look increasingly likely.

Dervis' resignation is big, big, big. The IMF, which has sent a team to town this week to check on the economy's progress, will probably withhold loan money without Dervis in government.

Dervis is not a politician, and unlike most government ministers, was not elected to office. He is a former World Bank VP who was appointed to the job last spring to help smooth the way between the Turkish government and the IMF and World Bank. Every time a new tranche of cash from the IMF and WB loans were due, it was Dervis' assurances that the government was on the right track that kept the money flowing.

The new party would be something of a super-party, featuring Dervis plus the 2 heaviest hitters from Ecevit's party. Dervis himself is controversial. The establishment pols hate him for wanting to clamp down on the corruption that keeps the political wheels turning. They accuse him of being an agent of the IMF, the equivalent of accusing an American politician of being a tool of the UN, wanting to subvert the nation to shadowy foreigners.

Last spring the people were hailing Dervis as a savior, tearfully hopeful that he would turn the economy around. Things have muddled along since then, not great but not disastrous, but he isn't lauded in the press the way he was back then. I have no idea how he's polling now, but even moderate Turks may not be comfortable with him, since he's spent the last 20 years living in Washington, has an American wife, German mom, etc., so he may not seem sympathetic to the man in the street.

But with Cem and Ozkan, who knows?

Anyway, it seems most likely that parliament will meet Sept. 1 and call new elections, probably in November. September seems a long time away considering what a frenzy this week has been, what else can happen?

A new party? Why won't Ecevit resign?

Rumors are circulating that the DSP defectors - now said to be numbering as many as 45 - will form a new party, and that the party will include lead defector Ozkan, foreign minister Cem, and special economy minister Dervis. This leadership roster sounded like sheer speculation to me, but apparently the trio had dinner at Cem's home the other night. That doesn't mean they've agreed on forming a party, but they're not talking about the World Cup.

Ozkan needs a new party, unless he's hoping Ecevit will ask him to come back and take over, which seems unlikely at this point. Cem is still with the DSP, where he is now the biggest fish after the PM himself. Dervis needs a party also if he's going to get in the game, as he says he will. Would the three agree on who would be top dog? Dervis has big name value, although his 20 years living in Washington DC don't make him a man of the people.

But the government isn't dead yet, in fact it claims it's feeling happy and might like to go for a little walk. There are dozens of scenarios being floated for forcing new elections, everything from convening an emergency session of parliament to arrange the election for September, to President Sezer (who doesn't have a role in day to day affairs of government) weighing in. Most of these scenarios are being floated by people who can't pull them off.

One interesting possibility I haven't seen floated yet is suggested by Ecevit's meeting with Tansu Ciller, head of opposition party DYP. She has previously been the shrill lead of the chorus calling for his resignation and new elections, but after her meeting seemed to say his hanging in until 2004 isn't such a bad idea. Ecevit has also been courting coalition partner - and now the largest party in parliament - the nationalist party leader Bahceli, who sparked the latest crisis by calling for elections last Sunday. The remains of the DSP added to the DHP, and DYP would be enough to form a new government excluding ANAP, which is loudly worrying about how to arrange new elections to avoid disrupting Turkey's EU bid, which has an end of year deadline to get some legislation passed.

Ecevit certainly doesn't seem willing to consider stepping down. Last Sunday he said, "For me to resign I would have had to make mistakes, acted in a way that would have hurt Turkey. Just the opposite. This three-way government has brought solutions to long-outstanding issues facing Turkey." Ecevit sounds like many folks getting to his age (77 or 78) who refuse to admit they shouldn't be driving anymore.

Whether or not he is physically capable of continuing the job, his political support is crumbling. He can't do it anymore. The sooner he admits that to himself and names his preference for a successor, the sooner the country can get down to the business of choosing a new government and hopefully stability.

Wednesday, July 10, 2002

More inside the political wranglings

The English language Turkish News site is screwed, the front page includes such up to the minute stories as the World Cup team's determination to beat Brazil. Turkish Daily News is updating, but they still don't have permalinks, so this story will be a totally different article in a day or two.

But it's got some interesting tidbits.

It appears that Ozkan's resignation came after a meeting with Ecevit. The sound of things is that Ozkan hadn't been vocal enough in putting down suggestions that a new coaltion government should be formed with himself as chairman, and Ecevit and his wife (currently acting as something like a party whip for her husband) as advisors. The proposed replacement of the nationalist DHP party in the coalition by the DYP, the strongest opposition party currently in parliament, may have been a back room deal between the DYP's Tansu Ciller (Turkey's first female PM a few years back), and ANAP, the third party in the current coalition.

So if Ozkan wasn't plotting this, his crime in the Ecevits' eyes was not coming down strongly against anything that involved replacing the PM with himself. Bahceli's calls for new elections - something he probably has the votes to force and still seems to be pursuing - was a response to ANAP's plot to kick his party out of the government.

ANAP is also worried about new elections, because it isn't popular enough to pass the bar required to get into parliament at all this time around (at least by current polling). According to TDN, ANAP wants to finish negotiations with the EU to get Turkey into the next stage of candidacy, in hopes this accomplishment will garner it votes. It also hopes to get votes from Kurds for supporting EU required human rights reforms.

A struggle for power within Ecevit's DSP seems likely, especially if they go into a new election this fall (I've been hearing October and November as suggested dates). The foreign minister Cem, State Minister Gurel, and the recently resigned Ozkan are all contenders, but the DSP suggests that Kemal Dervis could decide to join the DSP (a possibility I mentioned weeks ago) and bid for leadership. Certainly Dervis needs a party to back him if he wants to be a contender, and he might be acceptable to Ecevit as someone who will carry on his legacy.

Ecevit doesn't show any sign of being willing to step down, but it's hard to imagine him having the gas to campaign for reelection. If the new elections are called he may have to face the inevitable and turn over the reigns.

Also unheard from are several parties which are not currently in parliament. The CHP party got booed out of office a few years back, but it is the oldest party in Turkey, and has many loyal supporters who may put it back in the game.

Tuesday, July 09, 2002

Tal G. takes on my preposterous even-handedness

Thanks to an email from Tal G. I've discovered his blog, Tal Jerusalem. His entries are rather eye-opening, giving us tiny samples of the continual warnings and reports of attacks people are living with on a daily basis. He also tackles some of my postings on the situation in his country, accusing me, not entirely unfairly, of "preposterous even-handedness". His point is that I am resorting to hyperbole and exaggeration to make Sharon out as a bad guy.

In my opinion, you yourself signal the weakness of the "even-handed" approach by resorting to misstatements and hyperbole. "Sharon uses tanks to pave the way for settlers". No, he doesn't... "Destruction of Palestinian homes" ... Do you mean the booby-trapped ones in Jenin? Or the ones in East Jerusalem built without a permit? (If you mean the latter, then go ahead and criticize the municipality as unresponsive or draconian even)...

I'll concede that calling the actions of the IDF "paving the way for settlers" is hyperbole. I'm certainly not of the camp that claims Israel is committing genocide, although they have apparently committed bonafide war crimes (e.g. preventing medical teams from going into Jenin). Israel is a modern, democratic nation whose people are obviously unwilling to have genocidal actions committed on their behalf, in spite of the relentlessness of the terrorist campaign against them.

So why don't I like Ariel Sharon?

One part of my discomfort with Sharon is his support for settlements. What I've read suggests that he is an active supporter of the settlements, and probably wants to keep expanding them to fully dominate the land currently held by the Palestinians. If those who are better informed than me can correct or ameliorate this impression, please do. The fact that expansion of settlements is "mostly frozen except in a few places" isn't good enough, nor that the IDF is discouraging unauthorized outposts; these seem more realpolitik than evidence of a change of heart.

The other part of my distrust of Sharon is that his policies since becoming PM seem to have three properties in common. One is that they are justified by terrorism, the second is that they increase the pressures which cause terrorism, and the third is that they involve increasing Israeli control over Palestinian terroritory.

The second bit is probably the contentious one. I'm not trying to claim that Israeli actions are responsible for terrorism; clearly Palestinian society is dominated by groups who benefit from the war against Israel. What concerns me is that Sharon's policies appear to strengthen these groups' hold on Palestinian society by encouraging the view that Israel is not sincerely interested in peace.

I can see a lot of objections to that line. For one, the Palestinians are effectively doing the same thing - nobody can honestly suggest the terror attacks will stop no matter what offers are made by Israel. Whether the attacks continue because Arafat is unwilling to stop them or because he's unable to, the result is the Israelis don't believe the Palestinians will end their war against them no matter what they're given.

I don't trust Sharon because he appears to be achieving the same thing, that is, offering no believable hope of peace to the other side. I'm not talking about capitulation - give the Palestinians what they want and then smile, hoping you'll get something nice in return. I'm just talking about making it seem to the Palestinians that the Israeli leadership would accept an independent Palestinian state if it could and would stop the violence.

It probably seems obvious to most Israelis that this is true - if a Palestinian leadership were to arise which was capable of this, the Israeli government would have no choice but to negotiate for peace and an independent Palestine - the Israeli voters would demand it. But I don't think this is obvious to Palestinians. If it seems to me that Sharon is less interested in peace than in expansion, to the Palestinians it must be a core belief.

The occupation policy is the case in point of what I'm saying. Tal G. describes the settlements as useful to Israel essentially because they are bargaining chips; without them, Palestine and their western supporters would be demanding further concessions from Israel as basic requirements for peace. A similar logic would apply to the occupation - taking more land is adding more chips to Israel's pile, making their bargaining position that much stronger.

But given that most Palestinians see Sharon as someone who wants to take their land for settlements, the occupation policy has the side effect of bolstering arguments that Sharon has no intention of making peace, but is only looking for excuses to achieve his agenda. This feeds anti-Israeli sentiment, encouraging further violence, which will result in further occupation. Does anyone on the Israeli side really think something different will come out of it?

I am not David Bromwich!

I've just tweaked the blog's template - I have a quote from David Bromwich under the title, whose credit had been giving people the (incorrect) impression that I am David Bromwich. Mr. Bromwich wrote an opinion piece in the Washington Post a few months back, and I liked the line about not making any more enemies than necessary.

I'm remaining anonymous for the time being, not so much for fear of my life or imprisonment, as for fear of sacrificing my (non-journalism related) living. Many people in Turkey take offense at criticism of their government (as do many people in other countries, naturally), and I want to be able to vent without worrying about losing work.

Banks 'n stuff

I'm clearing out my mail queue this afternoon. Onur Sarisaban clears up the situation with bank mergers and such from my previous post:

BDDK and BRSA are one and the same. BDDK is the Turkish abbreviation, and BSRA is the English abbreviation. The Yapi Kredi & Pamukbank merger is off, Pamukbank has been taken over by the BDDK, and corruption and fraud charges are going to be brought against its owner (Mehmet Emin Karamehmet, the wealthiest man in Turkey, worth over 5 billion USD, used to be 8 billion USD before the 2001 crisis)

Thanks for the clarification Onur.

Turkey's government chaos and the War On Terror

Many warfans are probably wondering what impact governmental chaos in Turkey will have on America's War on Terror. The answer is probably not much.

Turkey contributes a lot to the War; it provides logistical support to operations throughout the region, is home to USAF bases used to patrol northern Iraq, gives a (weak) PR boost to the idea that the war isn't the West vs. Islam, and is currently leading the peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan.

Turks are proud of their loyal support of the US, and rightfully so considering they live next door to the hornet nests Bush and his hawks are eager to poke sticks at from thousands of miles away. Thankfully few Turks know that the average American doesn't have a clue about any of this.

At any rate, those of us (Istanblog readers obviously included) who do appreciate this can be pretty sure that new elections in Turkey, no matter what their outcome, are unlikely to affect this support. Supporting US military policy is a core value of the Turkish army, and the army's policies are not influenced by politics; unlike fully democratic countries, the elected politicians answer to the military rather than the other way around.

Elected governments come and go at a rapid pace in Turkey. The current dustup will certainly have an impact on the country's economy, and possibly its progress towards joining the EU. If the wrong people get elected they could flub the country's relationship with the IMF, currently doling out huge tranches of loan money; this would mean even more economic woe.

The most interesting possibility is that an Islamic party could get a major share of the votes in the next election. This shouldn't be interpreted as a desire by the Turkish people to support Islamo-fascism, but rather a desire to have a government which isn't blatantly corrupt. The military, however, will see an Islamist party in government, no matter how reformist and non-fundamentalist its agenda, as a threat to the secular Republic, and so such a government would be unlikely to last more than a few months, if it were allowed to happen at all.

The biggest danger is that the economic situation, which is currently rated "shitty", could, with bad management, become "intolerable", causing people to become violently angry. This doesn't look likely to happen in a hurry - the economy is bad, but people are eating, shopping, and living their lives.

But there are plenty of people on the political scene who would happily do very stupid things trying to pander to populist sentiment, things which could result in hardship for a lot of people. Hopefully that will be avoided.

Turkey's government on the verge of collapse

I leave the country for one week and look what happens.

A brief recap of the story up until now: Prime Minister Ecevit has been in and out of the hospital for a few months now, and the sharks have been circling. His DSP party is a part of a 3-party coalition government, along with the right-wing nationalist DHP, and the center-right Motherland Party. There have been loud calls from opposition parties for new elections, so a government can be formed that doesn't depend on a sickly senior citizen, and presumably one which includes those calling for elections. The coalition partners, although never exactly bosom buddies, have all refused to consider elections, since they're polling so badly they probably wouldn't even get back into parliament, much less cushy cabinet posts.

This week the PM's supporting leadership has resigned, and both of its coalition partners are advocating new elections. The government is almost certainly finished.

The Prime Minister's DSP party has been having internal problems, with key ministers publicly squabbling. Deputy PM Husamettin Ozkan, who seems to be Ecevit's main operational man, has been accused by another minister of plotting to squeeze out his boss. Ozkan has now resigned, and two other ministers and possibly a third followed his lead. Given Ecevit's poor health, it doesn't seem likely he'll be able to keep the show running without Ozkan.

Before Ozkan's resignation, right wing coalition partner Bahceli called for new elections. This was an about-face from the DHP leader, caused by public reports that Ozkan wanted to get rid of the DHP from the coalition government and replace it with opposition party DYP. This alone was possibly enough to end the coalition. Since Ozkan's resignation, the third coalition partner has also said new elections are necessary.

The only way my crystal ball can see elections being avoided is if Bahceli changes his mind, now that he has the most votes in parliament (thanks to Ozkan's resignation), and works with Ecevit to cobble a new deal together. I can't see Ecevit agreeing to Bahceli becoming PM, however, so this doesn't seem likely.

My dollars are suddenly worth a lot more, but I'm not sure how business is going to hold up in the next few months.