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.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Upcoming Referendum and the Peace Negotiations

September 8, 2010

Dear Readers,

This summer has gone by fast and now it is almost finally over. Unfortunately, I have not been able to submit a blog during the last month; not only due to family obligations which has taken me on a four-week trip with my daughter to Istanbul, New York, California, and as of tomorrow Minnesota. But also due to a really hot Istanbul summer where it was quite difficult to sit down and write (not to mention the ongoing saga of renovations done on my house, which were supposed to last 4 days but dragged on for 3 weeks). Despite this, exciting times have been brewing in Turkey and Israel. Happily as of September 15 I will be back in Istanbul trying to catch up!

All Eyes on Turkey

For Turkey, as many of you know, on September 12 they will go to the ballot box to vote on a referendum focusing on constitutional reform. It seems that the results will be close with many predicting that the ruling AKP party will be able to convince the majority of Turkish citizens to vote “Yes.” However, one cannot dismiss the Opposition, who are trying to convince the electorate that the reforms are nothing more than the AKP trying to phase out one more bastion of the secular state: the judiciary and to vote “No.” Undoubtedly, if the “Yes” votes surpasses the “NO” votes the AKP will have won one of their greatest victories yet; however, this comes at a price. The referendum regardless of the outcome will continue to polarize the Turkish electorate. If the “No” vote surpasses the “Yes” votes then this will be truly a vote of no confidence for the Prime Minster Erdogan. This is actually the root of the problem with the referendum campaign turning into more-or-less a vote of confidence with few people studying the complicated wording of the text and with both Erdogan and opposition leader Kilicdaroglu tied into a duel which has little to do with constitutional reform. A slim “Yes” victory is all the AKP needs to move forward, however if this happens the opposition can still claim some sort of victory, questioning if a mere slim majority is enough to implement such major changes. However, if the “No” vote comes through this will be a major political defeat for Erdogan and will be the first major sign that the 2011 parliamentary elections will be up for grabs. Lastly, the Kurdish Peace and Democrat Party has called for a general boycott so we also will be able to see how many of their supporters heed to their leaders call. In general, the Kurdish vote is one the Prime Minister Erdogan is relying on to bolster a strong majority.

Israel and Palestine: Back to the Table

For Israel and the Palestine, a new round of negotiations has begun, rather than wasting my ink as I have done in the past, I prefer to wait and see what Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas have in store. There are some signs that this round indeed will produce some type of interim-peace agreement. However, we have seen the script before and if we are basing it on passed negotiations this too is bound to fail. So I prefer to wait and see how it progresses in the next couple of weeks, or as we say in Hebrew until ahrei hahagim (after the long period of holidays between of Rosh Shanah to Sukkot when it is almost impossible to get anything done). For now, to all my Muslim and Jewish readers I wish you a Happy Eid/Bayram and a Happy New Year (with them falling on the same day this year)!