The old power elite wielded power by relying on the state apparatus and legitimized its actions by constitutions drafted after coups that they engineered. The power holders of today, however, are empowered by popular support despite the resistance by the bureaucratic elite that until recently controlled all vestiges of public domain. Popular support afforded by successive elections swept the incumbent governing party (the Justice and Development Party [AK Party]) to power and enabled it to end the tutelage of the army and bureaucracy (especially the judiciary) over society.
This was a revolutionary change that could only be completed by rendering the state apparatus into the servant rather than the master. This is what is lacking. The state is as powerful as ever, and although less distant from the people, is still opaque and unaccountable in many ways. With one difference, though -- it has lent all of its powers and privileges to the incumbent government through a new or submissive bureaucracy. This “new bureaucracy” is protected by the government, as witnessed by the judiciary’s efforts to interrogate three National Intelligence Organization (MİT) members and uncovering the responsibility of the “new” military’s chain of command in the bombing and death of 34 Kurdish Turks.
Question marks have surfaced regarding the reluctance of the government to make state institutions and functionaries more accountable and transparent, for such an attitude may serve the continuation of the tutelary system with a new suzerain. Another concern is the nature of the use of power. It may get to be increasingly hegemonic and arbitrary in the absence of checks and balances and effective opposition.
The example I gave last time for the lingering influence of the statist reflex in public affairs was the Kurdish issue. The central, hierarchic use of power unwilling to share its powers with local governments has not changed. There is no convincing sign that it will soon. The unequal relationship between the state and society reflects on the perception of the society as an adjunct of the state and a homogenous entity with no characteristic cultural differences and the state prerogative to make it that way.
This perception not only lingers on but influences the judiciary that punishes every demonstration of cultural difference as a potential terrorist act or association with a terrorist outfit.
Although Muslims, though a different sect, the demands of the Alevis concerning the acknowledgement of their assembly houses as houses of worship; being represented at the Religious Affairs Directorate on equal footing (or dismissal of this directorate altogether for the sake of secularism) and the abolishment of obligatory Sunni religious education at schools have not been granted.
A new debate now threatens to derail the adoption of a new constitution -- namely, whether Turkey should switch to a presidential system. At a time when all political parties have consented to the making of a popular, civilian constitution emphasizing rights more than obligations and subjugating the state to the service of the nation, this new order does not fit into the current political menu.
This one-sided declaration of intent has two meanings. First, all the preparations and efforts that have gone into the making of a new constitution are defunct. Secondly, the AK Party will design its own constitution incorporating the presidential system and take it to a referendum. What shall we call this use of power? Hegemonic or “majoritarian”? Can such an attitude bring more stability and cohesion to the nation? Why then does the ruling party resort to such a one-sided action even though it came to power by criticizing the union of powers, unaccountability and arbitrariness in state affairs?
Could it be that riding on popular power needs constant accountability and submitting to the demands of the people -- not a unique body of people but a heterogeneous amalgam of people -- which does not fit into the mindset of the “communitarian society” of the political conservatives? I hope not. Otherwise the debate that has been artificially started about the political system should first concentrate on how to improve the existing parliamentary system. Later perhaps a debate on the presidential or semi-presidential system should be launched when the improved parliamentary system proves to be unstable and inefficient. Otherwise we will start a storm in a teacup, all to no avail.