Erdoğan Plays Bully On Education Bill, Stoking Fears About Turkish Democracy
Op Ed: Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) won a recent battle over education reform by utterly marginalizing the opposition. These tactics indicate a dangerous trend for Turkey toward an ever more authoritarian government.
ISTANBUL - So this is how it's going to be from here on out. Even for important subjects like education, the ruling party is going to legislate the way it wants - without debate. Say goodbye to public discussion, legislative committees and proper procedure. Parliament might as well be a room in Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan's own home.
This is the only lesson that can be drawn from the way the ruling party passed its education reform bill. In order to keep the opposition from blocking the bill, AKP ministers quickly passed the legislation while they physically prevented the opposition from entering the legislative chambers. This precedent relegates Parliament to an insignificant institution with no purpose other than to follow the Prime Minister's instructions. Apparently, now it's even permissible to use corporal punishment on members of parliament who step out of line.
The AK party didn't even bother to inform the public about its plans to institute education reform. The party didn't include this bill in its election platform or in its inaugural speeches when Parliament opened last fall. All of this suggests that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan doesn't even take his own members of parliament seriously. How much regard does he have for them if he can't be bothered to inform them of his plans before announcing them?
Yet Erdoğan managed to push his bill through Parliament anyway, maintaining the attitude of a conquering general. It's hard to believe he could force through radical changes on a key subject like education without consulting the public. In fact, Erdoğan didn't bother assessing the impacts of this sweeping reform or setting up the necessary infrastructure. Instead, he presented the bill as if he had just pulled it out of his coat pocket for summary approval.
Unfortunately, today's Turkey is becoming more like the Turkey of the pre-1950's era. We may be returning to the days when the nation's leader simply issued orders and the Parliament always acquiesced.
Unsurprisingly, this hasty procedure met with protests from civil society. But these protests were no match for the state's holy trinity – gas, police batons and fire hoses. Even the teachers who were protesting the bill weren't spared. To make matters worse, AK party-affiliated media outlets declined to report on this police crackdown against the teachers, leaving their readers in the dark. This showed the limits that politics places on journalistic integrity. Doğan Akın from channel 24 said it best when he pointed out that, "This news was on the front page of nine major newspapers and mobilized thousands of activists. Yet some papers didn't even publish a single line on the story."
So this is how it's going to be. When the Prime Minister says "jump," the Parliament jumps. Those who don't will face the consequences, which may very well include violence. All the while, pro-government journalists will pretend that none of this is going on. I suppose all that's left for us to do is stand by stupidly and wait for whatever the Prime Minister decides next.
After all, if this is how the ruling party handles education reform, what should we expect when they set their sights on constitutional reform, as they plan to do in the coming year? In the end, the substance of the education reform bill is not as important as the way in which it was passed. This strong-arm approach seems poised to become the new style in Turkish politics. This portends a regime that gets increasingly more majoritarian, authoritarian, conservative, and populist. Good luck to all of us!
Read the article in Turkish in Radikal
Photo - ccarlstead