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Foreign Affairs : a new battleground between government and establishment

Saturday 17 March 2007, by Lale Sariibrahimoglu

Source : Today’s zaman, 15/03/2007

President Ahmet Necdet Sezer’s refusal to sign a decree envisaging the appointment of five deputy undersecretaries for the Foreign Ministry, the first of its kind in the history of the republic as described by the daily newspaper Hürriyet in its March 14 edition, has revealed an ongoing battle at the Foreign Ministry between the political leadership and the establishment.

President Sezer, regarded as the mouthpiece of the establishment that prefers to rule the nation independent of the political leadership, has returned to parliament numerous decrees envisaging the appointments of top bureaucrats.

He has also vetoed, sometimes rightly, various laws passed by the parliament — all mainly on grounds that the Islam-based conservative Justice and Development Party (AK Party) sought to seriously infringe on the secular character of the nation through the appointments of top and lower-level bureaucrats.

The problem with Sezer’s policy is the double standard that lies behind his attitude. To start with, since the establishment of the Turkish Republic by Atatürk 84 years ago, the Turkish bureaucracy has always turned into a battlefield between the different ideologies, from the left to the right, depending on what type of coalition or single party governments then ruled the nation.

There has been no objective criteria applied to the appointment of bureaucrats who have mostly fallen victim to the ill-defined policies of the then ruling political leadership. Due to the absence of a fully established rule of law in Turkey, sometimes bureaucrats not affiliated with any party view can find themselves being linked to a certain ideology through rumors instead of objective criteria that should dictate their appointments.

It is also true that in Western democracies the winning party or the parties setting up the government would choose to work with bureaucrats they feel are close to their own ideologies. But in Turkey, we have always witnessed a massive shakeup in public institutions from top to bottom with every new government, resulting with the danger of creating bureaucrats who could only keep their positions if they were loyal to government policies they sometimes did not agree with.
Those who have been resisting AK Party appointments thus pursue a double standard with the sometimes unnecessary fear that the Turkish secular order would receive a serious blow with certain appointments.

Such resistance damages the credibility of the resistors because the same voices criticizing AK Party appointment policies have remained relatively indifferent when in the past governments close to their ideologies made appointments that, for example, resulted in the ministry of education and ministry of culture being staffed with either ultranationalists or extreme conservatives — appointments that contributed to ultranationalism in society sometimes turning into violent nationalism. This was the case with the slaying of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink in January this year

An ongoing battle between the establishment and the government

President Sezer’s rejection of a decree envisaging the appointment of five Foreign Ministry deputy undersecretaries is significant because it reveals that the ongoing battle between the establishment the current government over the appointment of top level bureaucrats has spread to the foreign ministry, an institution regarded as the closest to the status quo.

The current names appointed as deputy under-secretaries mark a rejuvenation drive by the government at the ministry to create a team of top diplomats who would be much more loyal to the ruling government than the older diplomats who are part of the establishment, says a senior Turkish diplomatic source.

But in my opinion this rejuvenation drive by the government is positive in the sense that those top but young diplomats would act in a more realistic manner toward world affairs. I myself know in person a majority of the five deputy undersecretaries that Sezer rejected by not signing the appointment decree. They are intelligent and sophisticated enough to inject energy into the ministry which has not done much in the past in taking initiatives to help the government in its efforts to pursue a proactive stance in solving Turkey’s chronic foreign policy problems.
As a long time journalist dealing with diplomacy and defense I believe that the new deputy under-secretaries, who now must remain as acting deputy under-secretaries in the absence of Sezer’s approval, will contribute positively to the government’s efforts to settle the country’s chronic foreign policy issues ; issues that the status quo preferred not to solve, thereby putting too heavy a burden on the citizens of this country.

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