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More of the same? Erdogan rule to replace emergency rule in Turkey

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will reportedly not extend Turkey's state of emergency, in place since the 2016 coup, when it expires, but critics warn Erdogan has just gained many of the powers it afforded him.
A pedestrian lights a cigarette as he walks past in banners with portraits of Turrkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) and the leader of Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Devlet Bahceli in Istanbul on June 19, 2018. - Turkey is preparing for tight presidential and parliamentary elections on June 24, while many analysts say President Erdogan wants a major foreign policy success to give him a final boost. (Photo by Aris MESSINIS / AFP)        (Photo credit should read ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images)

An influential pro-government Turkish newspaper reported that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his nationalist allies have agreed not to extend the state of emergency that has been in place since the failed 2016 coup when the current three-month period expires in July. Sabah's report followed yesterday’s meeting between Erdogan and far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahceli. The hard-line nationalist leader had earlier aired opposition to any relaxing of emergency rule. 

Bahceli wants to be rewarded for his support, which saw Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) win Sunday’s presidential and parliamentary elections and usher in a new executive presidency to replace the parliamentary system. Select Cabinet and other posts may well go to the MHP, although it remains unclear which ones. The Cabinet, which is expected to include two deputy presidents, is supposed to be announced July 8. Bahceli is reportedly pushing for the defense and interior portfolios. 

The AKP will likely retain control over foreign affairs, the economy, energy and education. 

All eyes are trained on Erdogan’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak, who presents himself as the Turkish leader’s anointed successor. Albayrak is currently minister of energy but is said to yearn to become the country’s top diplomat, much as top presidential adviser Ibrahim Kalin does. But Albayrak was fielded as a parliamentary candidate — Kalin wasn’t — and won a seat in Istanbul. Under the new system, Cabinet members are picked from outside the legislature. Albayrak could theoretically relinquish his seat, allowing another AKP candidate to pick it up in a by-election.

In any case, Erdogan, who now has the power to appoint and sack ministers, judges and assorted other officials at will, is the sole boss.

But he also recognizes that scrapping the state of emergency under which tens of thousands of civil servants, academics, journalists and politicians have been purged or jailed for alleged links to the coup would give Turkey’s sagging image a sorely needed boost. Just as importantly, it might restore some measure of investor confidence in the country’s troubled economy hit by a sinking currency, rising inflation and a mammoth current account deficit.

In what some called a hopeful sign, Turkish economist and columnist Mehmet Altan was released from prison yesterday. 

Altan and his older brother Ahmet — who remains behind bars — are among the most prominent Turkish media personalities charged with aiding and abetting the coup, which was allegedly masterminded by the US-based Sunni cleric Fethullah Gulen. The Altan brothers supposedly gave coded messages to the coup plotters in a TV program aired the night before the coup. Mehmet’s case drew global opprobrium when a penal court ignored a Constitutional Court ruling calling for his release pending trial. Celalettin Can, a leading activist and member of the minority-friendly left-wing Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), was freed the same day.

Analysts say, however, that it's too early to speak of a loosening of Erdogan’s grip, underlining that Erdogan now enjoys the power to rule by decree. Howard Eissenstat, an academic who specializes in Turkish affairs, tweeted, “This is signaling for the West. There'll be a few more steps, some prominent releases. But if there aren't mass releases and repeal of KHK decrees already issued, it is window dressing.” KHK refers to decrees issued under emergency law.

Amnesty International’s man in Turkey concurred. Andrew Gardner tweeted, “If true, reports that state of emergency will not be renewed is very good news. However, legal changes violating rights found within the 30+ emergency decrees must also be repealed, and there is the matter of how the Executive President’s powers to issue decrees will be used.”

Another big question is whether the state of emergency will be lifted nationwide or continue to be applied in the country’s predominantly Kurdish southeast on the grounds that the security threat posed by Kurdish militants warrants its continuation. The greatest human rights violations continue to occur in the Kurdish region and members of the opposition charge it was the scene of much of the alleged fraud in Sunday’s polls.

Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu put a damper on the optimism, acknowledging in a video posted on YouTube that he had made threatening comments to HDP co-chair Pervin Buldan “and more.” Buldan revealed yesterday that Soylu had blamed her party in a telephone call for the deaths of two AKP election officials, one of whom was found hanging in a village in the eastern province of Agri, and that he had threatened retaliation. 

The pro-government media initially claimed that the man who was hanged had been killed by Kurdish militants but it later emerged that he had taken his own life. The other was shot dead, also in Agri, and the perpetrators have yet to be caught. Buldan called Soylu’s warnings unacceptable but apparently to little effect. Soylu confirmed he had instructed governors to bar members of the pro-secular main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) from attending the funerals of soldiers killed in battle. The government alleges that the CHP is in cahoots with the HDP and the Kurdish militants, part of an ongoing smear campaign to discredit all of its opponents and a further sign that pressure on the HDP will not abate anytime soon.

Correction: June 28, 2018. An earlier version of this article stated the an AKP member had died, in fact two members died.

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