AK Party’s the election campaign promises : no sign yet !


AK Party gov’t faces challenges in fulfilling election promises

Over six months have passed since the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government won the election. Yet the government is facing significant challenges in fulfilling the campaign promises it made in the pre-election period.

So far, the government has been able to pass only one piece of legislation in Parliament within two months of the new legislative session, and it was not even among the AK Party’s campaign promises. The highly controversial march-fixing bill ended up causing temporary friction between the AK Party and the president’s office after the latter vetoed the original version before finally approving it upon second submission.

Most of the urgent bills that the country needs to adopt, like a comprehensive overhaul of the justice system, have been pushed to the backburner, while the intense polarization of Parliament makes it difficult for the government to push for democratic reforms in Parliament’s agenda.

During the campaign period leading up to the June 12, 2011, national elections, the AK Party banked on its impressive economic performance during the eight-and-half-years of its rule and pitched a slogan of “stability” to convince voters amid economic turmoil in the region. It worked like a charm as one in every two voters was skeptical of the opposition parties’ programs and voted for the AK Party, despite question marks about its ability.

The AK Party also outsmarted the opposition by promoting its vision for 2023, when the country will celebrate the centennial of the establishment of the republic. Instead of focusing on what it will do in the next four years of its mandate, the AK Party floated a grand vision of Turkey for the next three consecutive legislative terms until 2023, from increasing per capita income to TL 25,000 to amassing a $500 billion export portfolio. It also aims to have Turkey rank among the world’s top 10 countries by 2023. The party’s election manifesto, as unveiled by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, included five headings: Advanced Democracy, Big Economy, Strong Society, Branded Cities and Leading Country. It also included projects on a wide range of issues and areas to help Turkey progress.

The AK Party received the most credit when it announced its most important project, the preparation of a new, civilian constitution to replace the current military-era one.

Constitutional work is under way with the establishment of the Reconciliation Commission in Parliament, with representatives from all four parties and headed by the parliament speaker. Many suspect, however, that the internal bylaws adopted by the commission make it difficult to reach a compromise because they require an absolute consensus by the commission, which is not easy to get considering the wide divergence on some thorny issues. What is more, the arithmetic of the new Parliament made it impossible for the AK Party to go solo on the new constitution, too.

The government is making good on its promise of “a Turkey without gangs and juntas,” included in its election manifesto. The political support behind the landmark Ergenekon, Sledgehammer and other legal cases where clandestine gangs long-nestled inside the Turkish establishment are being tried is still strong. The AK Party’s armor was dealt a blow, however, when it pushed to change the match-fixing law Parliament adopted just eight months ago, reducing sentences for the organized groups and people who were involved in match-fixing scandals. Since the revision would impact the ongoing legal case, this was interpreted as a backing away from dismantling gangs long acting with impunity in sporting clubs.

Some 500 draft laws remained on the shelf in the last Parliament, and the new Parliament will have to send them back to the relevant subcommittees and start over the entire legislation process. These bills include the establishment of the anti-discrimination council; the law on state aid; the law on arbitration in legal conflicts; the law on the penitentiary facilities’ external security service; the law on the organization of the Ministry of Justice; the law on legal procedures, which seeks to change the expert system in courts; the ombudsman bill; the law on the protection of personal information; the law on state secrets; the law on restructuring the gendarmerie; the law on the military criminal code and military criminal procedures; the bill on the Turkish human rights council; the law on the establishment of a commission to oversee security forces; the law on higher education institutions; and the law on presidential elections.

Journalist Mehmet Altan questions some of the shortcomings of the AK Party’s rule. He says the AK Party failed to introduce changes to the Law on Political Parties, campaign finance laws and election law. He also laments the lack of progress on EU-oriented reforms. In 2010, Parliament did not enact any laws to achieve harmonization with EU standards despite plans outlined in a national EU reform strategy document, the National Program, to enact a total of 17 harmonization laws in 2010-2011. The only exception was the constitutional reform package, which made changes to 26 articles in the constitution. The EU backed and welcomed the package’s approval by the Turkish voters in the referendum.

Turkey had taken significant steps on some important issues such as the law of obligations, the Turkish commercial code, the environment, agriculture and food security in the previous year to comply with EU acquis. But Hakan Hakeri, professor of law at Marmara University, told Sunday’s Zaman that the government keeps delaying the establishment of regional appellate courts to reduce the backlog of cases in the judicial system. “The current situation, on what to do with these courts, is still uncertain,” he said, adding that steps to speed up lengthy court proceedings are being taken by the government. “Still, the promises on the speedy conclusion of trials have not been fulfilled,” he argued. He admitted, however, that the 2010 constitutional reform package met many of the EU’s demands.

Another harmonization law regulating the duties and responsibilities of the Court of Accounts has also been passed but not in line with EU expectations. Due to several last-minute changes made to the law, the reform failed to establish full civilian supervision over military expenditures. Instead, the government focused on passing several laws to bring relevant legislation in line with the now-revised Constitution. This is a major point on the government’s agenda now, but it is not clear whether Parliament has any plans to add EU harmonization laws to its new legislative session.

There is also a growing feeling of frustration in Ankara over the EU membership talks because of opposition from France and Germany. Progress on the accession negotiations could be further hampered when Greek Cyprus, which has managed to freeze key parts of Turkey’s accession talks with the EU because of the ongoing conflict, takes over the presidency of the European Union for six months in the second half of this year. Many predict that the already-stalled negotiations will effectively be frozen.

The government dropped the ball on oversight of the defense budget approved last month as well. As seen in the past, the military and defense establishment in Turkey was able to steer its way through budget deliberations without much scrutiny or transparency on military expenditures in the national budget. This year, the Ministry of Defense’s budget of TL 18.3 billion reflects a 7.4 percent increase from TL 17 billion last year and represents 4.8 percent of the overall budget. Ümit Cizre, who specializes in civilian-military relations, told Sunday’s Zaman that transparency in the national defense budget should have been the deputies’ first priority to discuss.

Those, like Cizre, who advocate strict civilian supervision of military affairs were also dismayed by reports that the draft version of a new regulation on procedures concerning audits of military spending prepared by the Court of Auditors was revised to strongly guard the military’s expenditures from being shared with the public after the court received threats from the military.

Retired military judge Ümit Kardaş criticizes the government for concessions given to the military on the oversight of military and defense expenditures. “The ruling party tries to manage relations with the military by negotiating deals on the fly. The opposition does not pay any attention to these matters. They talk about unrelated issues on the floor when the defense budget comes up for discussion,” he explained. Kardaş warned that to refrain from institutional change that would reflect the diminished role of the military is the biggest danger for the government. Noting that the Ministry of Defense is still weak under current laws, Kardaş said the autonomy of the General Staff still continues. “The General Staff should be attached to the Ministry of Defense rather than to the office of the prime minister,” he said.

Political commentator İhsan Dağı argues that the AK Party cannot hide behind the excuse that it cannot control certain “reactionary” institutions within the state. “It is now in a position — and proud to be — where it can determine the structure and organization of all these institutions. Yet by ‘defending’ the state, the AK Party risks becoming a pro-status quo power and diminishing its democratic credentials” he said.

On major infrastructure projects, the government is making good on its promise to deliver. The government is working to increase the length of intra-city highways to 365,000 kilometers by building 5,275 kilometers of new roads and projects, such as an underwater commuter tunnel for İstanbul, a third bridge over the Bosporus and the completion of a project to build a new highway between İstanbul and İzmir. The exception to this, however, is what Erdoğan called a “crazy project” for İstanbul, which plans to establish two new cities on both sides of the city. No work has started yet on the project.

The AK Party also announced plans to increase the duration of compulsory education to 13 years and change the structure of the Higher Education Board (YÖK), which oversees institutions of higher education. The enrollment in pre-K schools remains way below the EU average, but reforms to YÖK have not yet been introduced.

Last but not least is the concern about media freedom in Turkey and possible changes to counterterrorism laws to give breathing room to journalists. The government had the draft law in its hands on the eve of the June 12 election last year but did not have the will or the time to push it through Parliament. Even though the AK Party won a third term in a landslide victory, there is still no sign that the government is picking up from where it left off and changing the laws accordingly so that journalists will have a much more open and free environment for their reporting.

©ABDULLAH BOZKURT

2012-01-08

Gönderen/sent by : Yavuz Baydar

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