Turkey is in a state of crisis

ISTANBUL (CIHAN)- Turkey’s intelligence agency has been the victim of a fierce internal power struggle that has been taking place between the government and its one-time ally — the Hizmet movement, headed by Islamic scholar Fethullah Gulen — which is accused of undermining its 12-year rule.
A draft law that gives extraordinary powers to the National Intelligence Organization (MIT) — which reports to the prime minister — amid a high-level corruption scandal has currently been the subject of a stormy debate in Parliament’s general assembly, with opposition parties raising concerns that the spy agency law will turn Turkey into an intelligence state.

Attempts to empower MIT with extra powers come as part of a series of draconian measures taken by the government to maintain strict control over institutions such as the judiciary that should normally be independent and impartial. The MIT draft law is widely believed to have been introduced by the government as a tool to silence the increasing opposition in the country, in particular after the disclosure on Dec. 17 last year of a high-profile corruption and bribery scandal that has included not only several Cabinet ministers but also Prime Minister Recep Tayyip ErdoIan himself and his family.

MIT has already come under the spotlight for its unaccountability as well as its controversial role in Turkey’s highly problematic Syrian policies. The draft law does not address these problems of MIT and even has the potential to weaken Turkey’s ability to address the internal and external security challenges that it has been going through.

Cevat ÖneI, former deputy undersecretary of MIT, said in a telephone interview with this columnist that the draft law on the intelligence organization is not designed to address the general problem of a clash of authority among the intelligence, defense and security apparatuses of Turkey. The draft law should have been prepared by establishing a consensus with the opposition, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and the like, if the government had wanted to avoid the ongoing atmosphere of tension since the graft probe became public, he said.

The government has initiated a witch hunt against the opposition that criticizes its authoritarian measures and pressed for a series of new laws, widely believed to be meant to stifle the graft investigation. Therefore the MIT law is understood not to be intended to bring this spy agency up to democratic standards and to turn it into an efficient organization but to use it as a tool in government measures to suppress the opposition.

ÖneI is of the opinion that the draft law has been brought to Parliament very quickly, without a thorough debate on MIT or other security-related organizations with the aim of ensuring cooperation among different security and defense institutions. This is not acceptable, he added.

The current draft law, if approved by Parliament, has the potential to weaken MIT while further upsetting the balance between the judiciary, police force, defense apparatus and MIT, harming Turkey.

In the face of strong opposition, the government made several amendments to the law that included the creation of a parliamentary commission to oversee the activities of MIT. Yet, ÖneI said, while it is in the interest of Turkey to ensure democratic oversight of MIT, it is important to know what the functions of the planned parliamentary commission to oversee MIT activities will be.

“Whether the planned commission will be able to audit the M budget, whether its activities will be shared with this commission and whether this commission will be able to remove concerns over whether MIT will become transparent. All these questions need to be addressed by a commission to be set up for us to say that MIT will become transparent and accountable,” he stressed.

Currently, neither MIT, nor the police force, nor Turkish military activities have come under Parliament’s oversight. Hence none of these organizations are transparent and accountable.

As former MIT Undersecretary ÖneI stressed, all the events taking place, in particular since the Dec. 17 graft probe, as well as the way government handles the Syrian crisis, demonstrate that Turkey’s state management is in a crisis that has no place in democratic societies.

LALE KEMAL (CihanToday’s Zaman) C