Geopolitics

Turkey, Beware Of Erdogan’s Blind Faith In Majority Rule

Portraits of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Selcuk on Sept. 27
Portraits of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Selcuk on Sept. 27
Nuray Mert

-OpEd-

ISTANBUL â€" The 2010 referendum to change Turkey's constitution to give more power to the presidency prevailed in part because of the "It Is Not Enough, But Yes" call for support. I voted "No" then. And now, as it appears that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants to hold another referendum that will give even more power to the executive, I will vote "No" again. And this time, "No" is not enough.

With a referendum due next spring to finalize the reinforced presidential system, it is necessary to begin speaking about the vote now. And speaking loudly and clearly: I vote "No!"

I do not say this because I am against an Erdogan presidency. I am opposed to a "Turkish type presidency" and it would not be any different if the leader was someone with whom I agreed on political matters.

The "Turkish type presidency," or "unitary presidency" as it is sometimes called, is the search for a system for coalescing power around a single individual. The system that Erdogan's allies have described would feature no separation of powers, no independent judiciary, no real measures to safeguard rights and freedoms. This is the issue, not Erdogan.

You can't elect a sultan

This system risks creating an authoritarian regime. Its proponents see features such as a separation of powers, checks and balances, and guarantees of individual freedom as political weakness. Their approach to democracy says: "Let us deliver our will to a strong leader and he will know what to do with it" â€" the rest is just chatter.

Such an executive presidency, for its supporters, is ultimately the next-best alternative since you can't elect a sultan.

This thing we call "elections" is the result of the idea of modern politics and the majority of the people. But if we are talking about an order in which the dictum of religion will prevail, its reference cannot be "the people" or "the majority of the people." And nobody yet has been able to answer the question of how the dictum of religion may be applied to politics since the determination of what is "right" in a religion cannot be assigned to the will of the majority .

The mania for rule-by-majority reduces democracy to its most primal state. Instead, a modern democracy is a system in which as many different sectors of society as possible are included within the governing mechanisms. In contrast, what we call the "will of the people" is a secular-mystic concept invented to replace the religious references of the past. It's not hard to see why the right-wing, nationalist and Islamist political culture is pushing the rule-by-majority edict further and further away â€" the majority of Turkey is Sunni, Muslim and Turkish.

So, to return to our main point, the executive presidential system risks sliding quickly into a modern authoritarian regime that relies on the majority as the sole reference. I say a loud and clear "No" to this prospect but I also believe that we should go the extra mile to explain to others why we say no.

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Society

Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum

-Analysis-

SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.


It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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