Turkey’s referendum

Turkey is sliding into dictatorship

Recep Tayyip Erdogan is carrying out the harshest crackdown in decades. The West must not abandon Turkey
TURKEY matters not just for its size, but also as a bellwether of the political forces shaping the world. For centuries it was the seat of a great empire. Today, as a frontier state, it must cope with the violence spewing out of war-ravaged Syria; it is a test case of whether democracy can be reconciled with political Islam; and it must navigate between Western liberalism and the authoritarian nationalism epitomised by Russia. In recent years under Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey has gone backwards. This weekend it can begin to put that right.

On April 16th Turks will vote in a referendum over whether to abandon their parliamentary system for an executive presidency. A Yes is likely, but far from certain. There is nothing wrong with a strong president, but Turkey’s new constitution goes too far. The country would end up with a 21st-century sultan minimally curbed by parliament. A Yes would condemn Turkey to the elected dictatorship of President Erdogan. A No might just let Turks constrain him.

Authority figure
After Mr Erdogan came to power in 2003, he and his AK party did a lot that was good.

Encouraged by the IMF, he tamed inflation and ushered in economic growth. Encouraged by the EU, he tackled the cabal of military officers and bureaucrats in the “deep state”, strengthened civil liberties and talked peace with the Kurds. He also spoke up for working-class religious conservatives, who had been locked out of power for decades.

But today Turkey is beset by problems. In the shadow of the Syrian civil war, jihadists and Kurdish militants are waging campaigns against the state. Last summer the army attempted a coup—probably organised by supporters of an American-based cleric, Fethullah Gulen, who had penetrated the bureaucracy, judiciary and army in their tens of thousands. The economy, once a strength, is growing slowly, plagued by cronyism, poor management and a collapse in tourism.

Mr Erdogan argues that, to put this right, Turkey needs a new constitution that will generate political stability. He says that only a strong president can galvanise the state and see off its enemies.

Naturally, he is talking about himself.

The new constitution embodies the “illiberal democracy” of nationalists such as Viktor Orban of Hungary and Vladimir Putin of Russia, to whom Mr Erdogan is increasingly compared. On this view, election winners take all, constraints are obstacles to strong government and the ruling party has a right to subvert institutions, such as the judiciary and the press.

Yet this kind of stability is hollow. The most successful democracies make a point of separating powers and slowing governments down. The guiding idea of the American constitution is to stop presidents from acting as if they were monarchs, by building in checks and balances. Even the British prime minister, untrammelled by a written constitution, has to submit herself to the courts, a merciless press and a weekly grilling in Parliament, broadcast live.

Turkey is especially ill-suited to winner-takes-all government. It is divided between secular, religious and nationalist citizens, as well as Turks, Kurds, Alevis and a few remaining Greeks, Armenians and Jews. If the religious-conservative near-majority try to shut out everyone else, just as they were once shut out, Turkey will never be stable.

But the most important argument against majoritarian politics is Mr Erdogan himself. Since the failed coup, he has been governing under a state of emergency that demonstrates how cruelly power can be abused.

The state is entitled to protect its citizens, especially in the face of political violence. But Mr Erdogan has gone far beyond what is reasonable. Roughly 50,000 people have been arrested; 100,000 more have been sacked. Only a fraction of them were involved in the coup. Anyone Mr Erdogan sees as a threat is vulnerable: ordinary folk who went to a Gulenist school or saved with a Gulenist bank; academics, journalists and politicians who betray any sympathy for the Kurdish cause; anybody, including children, who mocks the president on social media. Whatever the result on April 16th, Mr Erdogan will remain in charge, free to use—and abuse—his emergency powers.

During the campaign he accused the Germans and Dutch of “Nazi practices” for stopping his ministers from pitching for expatriate votes. EU voices want to suspend accession talks—which, in any case, are moribund. Before long, the talk may even turn to sanctions. Some in the West will point to Turkey’s experience to claim that Islam and democracy cannot coexist. But to give up on that idea would be to give up on Turkey itself.

The fault is not so much with political Islam—many AK members and voters are uneasy with the new constitution. It is with Mr Erdogan and his inner circle. Although he is a religious man, he is better seen as an old-fashioned authoritarian than as a new-fangled Islamist. The distinction matters because AK, or an Islamist party like it, is bound to feature in Turkey’s democracy. Mr Erdogan, however, will one day leave the stage, taking his authoritarian instincts with him.

Hold him close
Hence the outside world should not give up on Turkey, but be patient. Partly, this is self-interest. As a NATO member and a regional power, Turkey is too important to cut adrift. It will play a vital part in any peace in Syria. Driving it into Russia’s arms makes no sense.

Turkey has also been a conduit for refugees into the EU as well as vital in controlling their inflow. The refugee situation is in flux: the EU will need to keep talking to Turkey about how to cope with the resulting instability.

Engagement is also in Turkey’s interests. The EU is its biggest trading partner. Contact with it bolsters the Western-leaning Turks who are likely to be Mr Erdogan’s most potent opposition.

NATO membership can moderate the next generation of officers in its armed forces. Although Turkey will not join the EU for many years, if ever, a looser EU, with several classes of member or associate country, might one day find room for it.

Turkey will remain pivotal after April 16th. If Mr Erdogan loses, Turkey will be a difficult ally with a difficult future. But if he wins, he will be able to govern as an elected dictator.

How a Trump presidency poses big questions for IMF and World Bank
Uncertainty surrounds free trade, China’s currency, bailouts and climate change
by: Shawn Donnan in Washington

Central bankers and finance ministers from around the world are gathering in Washington this week to discuss the state of the global economy and how to keep another post-crisis recovery from stalling.

But also hanging over this week’s spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank is the shadow of uncertainty. The US is the largest shareholder of both institutions and last year’s election of Donald Trump put an outspoken critic of multilateralism and the US-led liberal economic order in the White House.

Just what the new US administration’s plans are for the institutions is unclear, especially amid signs that moderates within the White House are exerting more influence over economic policy.

But Mr Trump’s arrival in Washington is already having consequences for both the IMF and the World Bank and forcing their leaderships to adapt.


The 2008 financial crisis and its aftermath gave new relevance to an IMF that for years had been facing question about its role in the global economy.

The fund has not only had a new raft of bailouts to administer but under the leadership of Christine Lagarde for the past five years it has also dived into subjects that might once have seemed taboo, such as inequality, the macroeconomics of gender equality and climate change. It has given emerging powers such as China a greater voice and, increasingly, a seal of approval.

Ms Lagarde and the IMF’s staff have also during the past year begun speaking more about the need to help those left behind by globalisation in the face of political earthquakes, such as the election of Mr Trump.

It all seemed easy when the Obama administration was on board. But in Mr Trump and his Republican administration the IMF now has a sceptic in the boardroom and there is plenty of potential for conflict.

Wilbur Ross, Mr Trump’s commerce secretary and trade tsar, has already taken exception to Ms Lagarde’s recent warnings about the damage a return to protectionism would do to the global economy.

Steven Mnuchin, the new Treasury secretary, has called for the IMF to step up its vigilance over currency manipulation, particularly in regard to China.

Though the Trump administration last week opted not to deliver on a campaign promise to label Beijing a currency manipulator, it has promised to scrutinise the topic more. In meetings with Ms Lagarde and other IMF officials, Mr Mnuchin and aides have focused on the currency issue so much that it has raised eyebrows at the fund, where the view is that there are more pressing concerns about the Chinese economy.

In response to the new administration’s other obsession — US bilateral trade deficits — some senior officials expect the IMF to give new emphasis to research on global imbalances.

Then there is the prickly question of Greece and its latest bailout, which Germany and other European shareholders want the IMF to join financially. A stand-off over what the IMF has labelled Athens’ “unsustainable” debt pile has consumed the relationship between the fund and its eurozone shareholders for the past two years.

It is unclear where the Trump administration will fall in the debate, though few expect it to block any IMF participation as some Republicans would like to see it do.

Some at the IMF have hopes that a $12bn bailout for Egypt, a strategically important country, may help the fund make its broader case to the Trump administration. Faced with questions about campaign links to Russia, those same people argue that Mr Trump will have to back the IMF’s bailout of Ukraine, though that too has been politically fraught for the fund.

The World Bank

If all had gone to plan, this week would be all about laying the groundwork for a capital increase and an expansive agenda for Jim Yong Kim, the World Bank’s president. But Mr Trump’s election has thrown that into doubt.

A surge in demand from ailing commodity exporters such as Nigeria drove lending at the bank’s main constituent part — the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development — to almost $30bn last year.

But officials say that unless the bank secures a capital increase from its shareholders, it will have to reduce lending. Few expect support for such a move from a Trump administration that has already announced its intention to cut funding to the World Bank and its sister regional development banks.

For that reason, the push for a capital increase is being put on hold at this week’s meetings, officials say. 

“It is all about playing defence,” one senior official said of this week’s confab.

The need for that was made clear last month after Mr Trump nominated economist Adam Lerrick, who has called for the World Bank to stop lending to middle-income countries such as China, to a senior role at the US Treasury.

The answer for Mr Kim and others in the development arena lies in doubling down on a plan to focus on mobilising more private capital, something they clearly hope the new Republican administration can buy into.

“For every project we support, we have to ask the question, ‘Can the private sector finance this on commercial terms?’” the World Bank president told an audience in London last week.

But Mr Kim, who was nominated by the Obama administration and re-elected to a second five-year term last summer, has also pushed the World Bank into areas that may lead to clashes with the Trump administration. The bank is, for example, now the largest funder of climate-related investments in the world, Mr Kim boasted in the London speech — something that is unlikely to win points with a climate change sceptic such as the new US president.

The Coming French Revolution

Zaki Laïdi
France riots

PARIS – In a week, France will elect its next president. Given the French executive’s considerable powers, including the authority to dissolve the National Assembly, the presidential election, held every five years, is France’s most important. But the stakes are higher than ever this time.
The two frontrunners are the far-right National Front’s Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron, who served as economy minister under Socialist President François Hollande, but is running as an independent. If, as expected, Le Pen and Macron face off in the election’s second round on May 7, it will be a political watershed for France: the first time in 60 years that the main parties of the left and the right are not represented in the second round.
France has not endured such political turmoil since 1958, when, in the midst of the Algerian War, General Charles de Gaulle came to power and crafted the Constitution of the Fifth Republic. That shift, like any great political rupture, was driven by a combination of deep underlying dynamics and the particular circumstances of the moment.
Today is no different. First, the underlying dynamic: the rise, as in most developed countries nowadays, of popular mistrust of elites, feelings of disempowerment, fear of economic globalization and immigration, and anxiety over downward social mobility and growing inequality.
These sentiments – together with the French state’s historical role in fostering national identity and economic growth – have contributed to a surge in support for the National Front. Le Pen’s nationalist, xenophobic message and populist economic policies resemble those of the far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon.
Although support for the National Front has been growing for more than a decade, the party has so far been kept out of power by France’s two-round electoral system, which enables voters to unite against it in the second round. And, given the National Front’s inability to make alliances, power has remained in the hands of the main parties of the left and the right, even as France has moved toward a tripartite political system.
Now, Macron is taking advantage of current circumstances to blow up the tripartite system.
Macron’s great insight, which few initially recognized, was that the right-left divide was blocking progress, and that the presidential election amounted to a golden opportunity to move beyond it, without the help of an organized political movement. At a time when the French people are increasingly rejecting the traditional party system, Macron’s initial weakness quickly became his strength.
It helped that, as Macron himself recognized, both the right and the left have fragmented in recent years. This is particularly true on the left, where a clear division has emerged between a reformist current, led by former Prime Minister Manuel Valls, and traditionalists, represented by the Socialist Party candidate, Benoît Hamon. The Socialists’ problems are compounded by the existence of a radical left working actively to eliminate them, much as Spain’s left-wing Podemos party has sought to replace the Socialist Workers’ Party there.
The source of the mainstream right’s travails is less clear. Its forces remain generally united on economic and social issues. In fact, until a few months ago, its presidential candidate, the Republicans’ François Fillon, was expected to lead the pack in the first round by a wide margin. But a scandal over his personal conduct (he allegedly paid his wife and children for non-existent jobs while he was a member of parliament) damaged his candidacy – probably fatally.
Whatever the reason for the right’s decline, Macron has benefited substantially from it, as well as from the rifts afflicting the left. Now, there is a real chance the young independent could be elected president on May 7, upending the Fifth Republic’s political system.
But an electoral victory is just a first step. To govern in France’s hybrid presidential-parliamentary system, Macron would need to secure a majority in the National Assembly. This opens the possibility of two scenarios.
In the first scenario, Macron quickly gains a parliamentary majority, as French voters seek to reinforce his mandate in June’s National Assembly election. This is conceivable, but not certain: it is here where the lack of an organized political movement on the ground remains a weakness for Macron.
That is why the June election could give rise to the second scenario: cohabitation with a parliamentary coalition comprising a small right-wing faction, a large centrist faction, and a hopelessly divided left-wing faction. Such a development would be familiar in many European countries. But in France, where republicanism gave rise to the left-right ideological spectrum that shapes politics throughout the West today, it would be a genuine revolution – one that could spell the end of the Socialist Party.
Given the symbolic power of the left-right divide, France’s voters and political leaders alike have long tended to frame virtually all of the country’s problems in ideological terms. The public and its politicians have little experience with government based on broad coalition agreements. This partly explains why the political system becomes gridlocked, sometimes making reforms difficult to implement, and why Macron’s message, which includes clear reform plans, is so unusual for France.
If Le Pen somehow comes out on top, French politics – not to mention the European Union – will be turned upside. But even the ostensibly moderate Macron represents, in his own way, a truly radical stance. With both candidates likely to make it to the second round, France is on the verge of a political revolution, regardless of who wins.

jueves, mayo 04, 2017



Turkey, Secularism and Religión

A struggle between two segments of Turkish society is emerging.

By George Friedman

The referendum in Turkey on Sunday was about increasing the powers of the president. But on a deeper level, it was about the relationship between secular and religious segments of society.

When Mustafa Kemal Atatürk founded modern Turkey, his guide was European culture. That meant Turkey needed a secular political order. Creating one in a predominantly Muslim country was not an easy matter. He solved this by making the military the constitutional guardian of the secular state, protecting it against the power of the religious.

Almost a century after Turkey’s founding, the Kemalist formula has become untenable. The religious in the Muslim world have reasserted themselves in a number of divergent streams.

This has inevitably energized the Muslim masses in Turkey. The secular, European culture that had dominated the country is confronting the increasingly powerful claims of the religious. The fundament political and social question is how to create a single polity built around two divergent cultures. Neither can be dismissed. Turkey is a Muslim country that was modernized by secularism. If you destroy the secular, you demolish the accomplishments Turkey has made thus far. If you attack the Muslims, you inflame a religion that, having been aroused, cannot capitulate. Turkey has become a republic of mutual contempt and distrust. Whoever governs Turkey will be riding a tiger. If he falls off, Turkey will be torn apart. If he stays on, the tiger – simultaneously secular and Muslim – will have to be afraid of the rider.

Supporters of Turkey's president celebrate as they wave Turkish national flags during a rally near the headquarters of the Justice and Development Party on April 16, 2017 in Ankara after the initial results of a nationwide referendum that will determine Turkey's future.

Secularism’s way of accommodating religion is to create a radical distinction between public and private. Religion is to be part of private life, while the public sphere should stay neutral on religious matters. To put it differently, public life would be secular and people would be free to choose how they want to live their private lives. The problem is that secularism is not neutral. It is a vision of a just world. It is built on the extraordinary assumption that a radical distinction between public and private life is possible. If you believe that the universe has a divine purpose and that your life is part of that purpose, how can you confine that belief to the hidden realm of the private? How can a culture banish its ancient beliefs from public life but remain unified?

Secularism asserts that it is neutral because it does not incorporate any of the traditional religions. But the problem is that secularism, while not a traditional religion, nevertheless maintains moral claims, and with them a belief in the nature of humanity and its purpose. It does this by asserting the centrality of the individual and his right to make choices. None of us develop or live our lives as individuals, separate from social influences. Secularism takes a leap of faith when it asserts that a society can be built around the individual – he is born to a family in a place with a past, a language and a culture, yet he is expected to be autonomous. Even the idea of human autonomy is a moral claim. In other words, secularism is not neutral but a competitor to other religions, lacking any God but the individual.

At first, the secularists see the re-emergence of self-confident religiosity as merely the rise of the unwashed. Then, they see it as an enemy of freedom. In failing to understand that the secularist claim to moral superiority needs to be justified and not asserted as self-evident, secularists find themselves on the defensive. In assuming that the privatization of religion is in itself a stable solution, they undermine the foundations of secularism. Unlike Thomas Jefferson or Giuseppe Garibaldi, modern secularists are bad politicians. They don’t know when they have to cut a deal.

Secularism has achieved extraordinary things. Its handmaiden is science, and science has delivered. It has doubled life expectancy in advanced countries in a century. It has made traveling between continents in an evening possible. It has created patterns of life never seen before. Religions could not achieve these things because they did not see them as essential. Religions did not search for the meaning of the world, as they believed it was already revealed.

But secularism also brought horrors. It gave rise to ideologies – visions of what humanity ought to be.

These were not only expressed in writing but put into action. Fascism, communism and liberal democracy were all spawns of secularism. The regimes that some of these ideologies inspired in the 20th century make al-Qaida’s abilities, if not intentions, pale by comparison. A secular vision of humanity – coupled with the power of technology that secularism had released – created a global reign of terror. Liberal democracy defeated the other ideologies. I think the most moral won, but it set the stage for another challenge. The claims of our fathers’ faiths remain. It is much like the relationship between Judaism, Christianity and Islam and the paganism they crushed. That paganism has never stopped haunting, and in some limited ways secularism is the modern incarnation of paganism.

Turkey is not the only region dealing with the struggle between the rule of secularism and the claims of religion. Europe and the United States are also facing this issue. At the same time that the religious increase their assertiveness, secularists become more aggressive. They seem to believe that, as a Jew, I am deeply hurt by a Nativity scene in the town square or by someone saying Merry Christmas or Ramadan Mubarak. The more radical secularism becomes, the more powerful its critics will become.

Deeply held suppressed beliefs are far more dangerous to me than the state acknowledging what we all know, which is that the United States has Christian roots but is now a nation of many beliefs.

But this struggle is particularly evident in Turkey. It is the place where Christianity and Islam met, merged and created something new. Istanbul is, after all, the seat of Constantine, who was the political founder of Christianity. It is the city of European secularism, confronting the renewed authority and power of the old religion. Secularists view that religion as primitive. The religious view themselves as the keepers of ancient truths.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is seen as a monster by secularists in and particularly outside of Turkey. They are making a huge mistake. He is the leader who is not only petting the tiger but riding it. If he cannot reconcile the secularists and the religious, what will come after him will be far worse. The rule of the secularists in Turkey backed by the army is over. At the same time, we are seeing a transformation of secularism from a system of toleration that accommodates private beliefs in public life, to an attempt to exclude those beliefs from the public sphere.

All ideologies tend to the “reductio ad absurdum” because they are driven by ruthless logic.

For secularism, the distinction between the public and private must be maintained at all costs.

In the 21st century, the past is reasserting its claim on the public sphere. At the same time, secularism is proclaiming that God must be kept out of public life and that the secularists are his only prophet. This will lead to more Erdoğans and, if they lose, to worse yet.