Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Referendum and FIBA Basketball Championship

September 21, 2010

Well, at last I am back in Turkey and quite ready after the long summer to sit down and write. I came back two days after the referendum and already on the plane I was able to catch Tuesday’s morning Turkish papers covered with news, with some of them having a full page advertisement of Prime Minister Erdogan personally thanking the electorate for overwhelmingly voting “Yes” to the government’s plan to move forward on an extensive constitutional reform package.

I was not surprised that 58% of the Turkish electorate voted “Yes.” The strength of the vote shows that about 15% of the Turkish electorate did not see the referendum as a vote of confidence on Erdogan’s performance but actually were voting over the issue of constitutional reform; obviously, while popular support for the government is strong it does not stand at 58% and if elections were held today it is hard to believe that more than 40-45% would vote for the AKP as in the past election. Nevertheless, even if they have not gained support –they certainly have not last any support. In that sense, the referendum was a good litmus test for the AKP. Likewise, it seems that Kemal Kilicdaroglu’s performance also needs to be congratulated; he has managed to give the opposition new life and by conjuring up 42%for the “No” vote it seems that in the next elections the CHP can easily increase their vote to 25-27% of the electorate. So for now, all eyes will be focusing on the upcoming national elections in Turkey which will take place next summer.

The FIBA World Championship and Erdogan….

While much has been written on the referendum, what actually caught my attention was Prime Minister Erdogan’s taking center stage at the FIBA World Basketball Championships which were held in Istanbul during late August and September. Turkey turned out with an impressive second, following the US team, with the final game between the two teams being played on the day of the referendum. Well, Prime Minister Erdogan, with knowledge of his strong victory showed up as the final match, and to the surprise of some was heckled by irate spectators. According to Hurriyet Daily News, one of the spectators was even arrested after the police went over the video footage to see who this group of mongers were, only to be released by a court order.

Missed the Cheerleading Show?

The other event which also caught my attention was the issue of the cheerleaders at the championship games –or the lack of. Never really a fan myself of cheerleading or cheerleaders, they become the center of a huge controversy during these games with FIBA slapping Turkey a fine for canceling some of the cheerleading halftime shows. Apparently, during one match between Turkey and Russia, they were pulled allegedly due to Prime Minister Erdogan’s distaste of the promiscuously dressed squad. As the cheerleading is considered an integral part of the half-time program the Turkish Basketball Federation was fined 3,200 Swiss Francs. In fact, even Iran during the game with the US allowed the cheerleaders to take stage, as long as they dressed in more appropriate clothing. This move was praised by FIBA who claimed that in such ways cultural differences can be overcome.

Erdogan hands a 28,000,000 Turkish Lira check to Winning Team

If it seems Prime Minister had not taken center stage enough, hold on tight. Perhaps due to the fact that Erdogan was completely ecstatic due to his remarkable victory on September 12, to show his (and the Turkish people’s I suppose) gratitude to the Turkish Basketball team for coming in second place he awarded them with a check for 28,0000,000 Turkish liras (approx: $19,000,000) straight from the State’s treasury. Now it seems that in many countries such an act would be unheard of and considered to say the least as “bad administration,” without even pointing to blatant corruption, or misuse of state funds. Well in Turkey also this did not go over well with Ankara Lawyer Sedat Vural, who has demanded from a local court a stay of execution claiming that the inflated amount violates “the principle of equality in the Constitution.” Wow, one could only imagine how the Turkish team would have been awarded if they actually had received first place!

In any case, I guess that the 3,200 Swiss franc fine for the cancellation of the cheerleading event can be split among the players and coaches who will receive 1,000,000 US dollars a piece for their fine performance if the courts don’t stop this.

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