Saturday, May 5, 2007

Election results wrap-up

Head of State Update is ready to announce that Nicolas Sarkozy has been elected President of France, winning today's run-off election against Socialist Segolene Royal. His election ensures that the 12-year conservative hold on the French presidency is now going to continue for at least another five years. I'll write more about him once he gets sworn in on the 16th of May.

Turkish Trouble

Talking of Presidential elections, there has been much brouhaha in Turkey lately over the election of their president.

Turkey is a parliamentary republic in which most power is held by the Prime Minister. The President is a weak figure whose main relevance comes from his power to appoint the prime minister from the parliament.

Much of modern Turkish political history has revolved around presidents trying to avoid appointing an Islamist prime minister. The Turkish elites have this extreme obsession with keeping openly religious people out of positions of power because they fear that a "non secular" leader would turn the country into a Middle-Eastern style rathole overnight. The funny thing is that the Turkish people keep voting for religious parties, however, so the political, military, and judicial elites have to resort of a number of decidedly undemocratic gimmicks to keep the Islamists out of office by any means necessary.

An Islamist Party won a plurality of seats in the parliament in 1995 but the President specifically avoided appointing the party's leader PM, as would normally happen. Instead he tried to force the other, smaller parties into unworkable anti-Islamic coalition governments, but they all failed. So he ulitmately had no choice but to appoint the Islamic guy. The political system having "failed" the nation, the Turkish military then staged a coup and forced the new Prime Minister out of office. The new military-backed government banned the Islamic party from ever running again.

But the Islamists founded a new political party, and in 1998 it too won the most seats in the parliament. Once again the President tried to weasel out of appointing the Islamist premier. And once again, after a few unsuccessful coalition governments, the President reluctantly had to appoint the Islamist guy in the end.

But even that's an interesting story, because the leader of the Islamic party at that time was named Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Mr. Erdogan had previously been jailed for reading an Islamic poem in public, a conviction which made him constitutionally ineligible for the prime ministership. So the President instead appointed Mr. Erdogan's friend Abdullah Gül. Mr. Gül served as Prime Minister for three months, during which he changed the constitution to allow people convicted of "crimes against secularism" to become PM.

Erdogan was appointed Prime Minister, a job which he holds to this day.

Flash forward to the present. The President's term is up, and a new one needs to be chosen. Under the Turkish constitution that's the job of the parliament. Prime Minister Erdogan suggested they make Mr. Gül the new president, and on April 27 they voted to approve him.

This was considered monstrously offensive to the pro-secular set. To many in this camp, the President of Turkey is not just some guy who picks the Prime Minister, but also the symbolic "head of the nation," and the man who must personify and embody all the values of the Republic. The first president of Turkey was a fanatical secularist named Mustafa Ataturk. He ruled as a dictator and pretty much single-handedly destroyed the vibrant Islamic culture that had arisen in Turkey during the days of the Ottoman Empire. Then he established a grotesque personality cult around himself, to remind future generations that he was the greatest Turk who ever lived and anyone who governed in a way different than himself was a horrible traitor to the nation.

Thousands and thousands of anti-religious activists went to the streets to protest Mr. Gül becoming president. They waved Turkish flags and portraits of Ataturk. One particular point of controversy was the fact that Missus Gül choses to wear the headscarf, something President Ataturk had tried to abolish because it was too Islamicy. "A woman who covers her head cannot sit in Ataturk's palace," one protester yelled.

But this week was good news for the secularists. The Turkish Supreme Court ruled that Mr. Gül's election was invalid, because parliament did not have quorum. The parliament has now delayed the election for several months, which will hopefully allow for tensions to cool. And Mr. Gül' says he is not going to run again.

It's an odd place, Turkey. So many people hate Islam, yet still identify as being Muslims. I wonder how high the rate of church attendance is.

New Leader in the Tropics

An interesting thing to chart would be the delay between elections and inaugurations around the world. In the United States, for example, the President is elected in early November, but not sworn in until some two months later, in late January. In France, the waiting period is about two weeks.

The Commonwealth of the Bahamas had an election on Wednesday and their new Prime Minister was sworn in on Friday. My guess is they are one of the quickest countries in this regard.

The new chap's name is Hubert Ingraham. He is a conservative who leads the Free National Movement party. Mr. Ingraham has been Prime Minister once before, for the ten year period spanning 1992 to 2002. Politicians in the Caribbean tend to have long shelf lives. There have only been three Prime Ministers of the Bahamas in all.

In its colonial days the Bahamas used to be a tropical paradise for tax-evading businessmen from Britain and the United States. Then in 1972 it became an independent country, and the charismatic socialist Sir Lynden Pindling became Prime Minister. The businessmen left and the narco-traffickers moved in. Ingraham beat Pindling in 1992, then Inragam himself was beat by Perry Christie in 2002; Perry Christie being the man who was chosen to lead the socialist party following Sir Lynden's 2000 death.

Here we see the new Prime Minister being sworn in by the Governor General of the Commonwealth, who is the small man on the right. Bahamas recognizes Elizabeth the Second as Queen, a fact which the present Governor General finds stupid. He'd much rather be president of a republic.

Some interesting people have run the Bahamas over the years. According to from 1706 to 1718 the islands were governed by Blackbeard the Pirate. From 1940 to 1945 the Governor General was Edward the Eighth, the disgraced former King of England. It's quite a fascinating country to study, really.


Jakey McJake said...

Did you make the "France Decides" graphic yourself?

Deb G. said...

I just want the Turks to admit to the Armenian Genocide and make what reparations are possible. They won't even ADMIT to it!
But all this about their political system is extremely interesting. Thanks, J.J.

Sesel said...

Sir Lynden Pindling led the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP), which is and was centrist (sometimes slightly left-of-center), not socialist. The socialist party in The Bahamas is a pro-Cuban outfit called the Vanguard Party, which has never had significant public support.

Anonymous said...

I really hate to say this, but I'm not so sure about this write up on Turkey...Besides, as third world dictatorships go, Ataturk's was hardly so crazed or horrible.

Oh, and the current government was elected in 2002. The difference wasn't THAT short...

JJ said...

I am not sure what you are refering to, anonymous. Gül was PM from November 2002 to March 2003, and Erdogan has been in power since then.

Anonymous said...

"But the Islamists founded a new political party, and in 1998 it too won the most seats in the parliament. Once again the President tried to weasel out of appointing the Islamist premier. And once again, after a few unsuccessful coalition governments, the President reluctantly had to appoint the Islamist guy in the end."

THIS is what I meant. Further, the Islamist party made up a majority of the seats, so rejecting it was impossible. THIS is what I meant. Besides, didn't the parliament give initial backing to the popular vote for president reform? I know where the story is on the net if you need it.

Anonymous said...

That's an extremely unfair characterization of Ataturk's reign, considering the man saved Turkey from being dismembered by the West, laid the foundation for a real republic and prevented it from going down the path of so many other Middle Eastern disaster stories.

It's also extremely unfair to characterize his personality cult as a Niyazov-like cult, since it arose mostly after his death and he wasn't its architect. It's closer to an extreme George Washington-style reverence than anything else.

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was a great man who doesn't deserve to be slandered in this way.

Crazydan said...

Would it be better to keep Turkey a secluar country instead of allowing it become an Islamist country, and causing another hotspot in Middle East?

JJ said...

Turks are a very defensive people, I find.

alex z. said...

Hi JJ, I enjoy your comic and your blog, but this time you've got it all wrong. The Turkish president isn't just a figurehead with symbolic powers, but has great influence on the state:
"The 1982 constitution gives the president a stronger and more extensive role than did the 1961 constitution, under which the presidency was a largely ceremonial office. The president is empowered to summon meetings of the National Assembly, promulgate laws, and ratify international treaties. The president also may veto legislation passed by the National Assembly, submit constitutional amendments proposed by the assembly to popular referenda, and challenge the constitutionality of assembly laws and cabinet decrees. The president's responsibilities include appointing the prime minister, convening and presiding over meetings of the Council of Ministers, and calling for new elections to the National Assembly. The president also is authorized to dispatch the Turkish armed forces for domestic or foreign military missions and to declare martial law.

The constitution also provides the president with appointive powers that he or she may exercise independently of the Council of Ministers. For example, the president is empowered to appoint the members of the Constitutional Court, one-quarter of the members of the Council of State, all diplomatic representatives, the chief of the General Staff, members of the Supreme Military Administrative Court, the Supreme Council of Judges and Public Prosecutors, the State Supervisory Council, the Council of Higher Education, and all university presidents."

The most important of his powers is to appoint military and other high rank officials. As you know, the Turkish military (which enjoys huge approval ratings, btw) is the one responsible for preserving the *secular* Turkish Republic. This means that a Muslim president can easily replace the secular officials and effectively eliminate the Kemalistic vision of a secular, European Turkish Republic.
And that's why many Turks oppose Gul.

Other than that, I would to join others who criticized your very one-sided and very limited depiction of Ataturk.

Fun fact about Turkey: Did you know that the Islamic party, which controls two-thirds of the National Assembly is supported by only one-third of the voters? It's true.
The majority of the people had voted for non-Islamic parties, but because the secular parties were devided, they weren't able to pass the enormous 10% barrier needed to get into the parliament (the barrier itself was created to deny the Kurds any representation in the parliament).

Anonymous said...

I'm not Turkish. I'm a Philadelphian of Italian descent. I just don't think it's right to slander the guy like that.

Psudo said...

How can you post anonymously and say who you are at the same time? You expect trust when you're avoiding any possibility of verification, itself a suspicious action to those prone to skepticism.