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Monday, June 24, 2013

Turkish Resistance Catches Some by Surprise:

The Turkish Gezi resistance movement against the Islamic -Fascist AKP government has become a phenomenon internationally.   This movement has germinated among the millennials which include anyone born after 1990, initially starting as a protest against the government’s decision to tear down a small park called Gezi adjacent to central Taksim Square.   A larger resistance movement has then been formed in reaction to the use of police force against urban activists, quickly evolving into a classic study in civil disobedience.  The Gezi movement has brought together many oppressed minorities working in collaboration and equality to come up with a grassroots system to further their anti-oppression agenda.    Gezi Park, before it was evacuated on June 15th by the government forces with tear gas bombs, physical violence and pressured acid water, had turned into a celebratory summer-camp for self-taught democracy for university students, communists, the LGBT community, feminists, Armenians, Kurds, trade unions even doctors and engineering organizations- all keeping guard to protect the park from government tear down.    

The day after their forceful evacuation of Gezi, the #Standingman and #standingwoman protest was started by a Turkish dancer who merely stood in the square, spread into popular “standings” by all in the Taksim Square as well as all over the country, including in places where police victims were killed in Taxim and the capital Ankara.  

Next, organized by the decentralized resistance movement, forums have sprung in more than a dozen parks through Istanbul.   Locals, including children, grandparents, resistance movement participants, students and small business owners attend these forums to speak about their views and ideas for two minutes.  Contributions are then recorded and published online.   These outdoor town halls are well moderated and are helping the population gain courage, confidence and most importantly, leadership skills.   By providing a basis for constructive social engagement, they are also helping build a needed foundation for unity, collaboration self-organization.

It’s like Turkey’s timid and apolitical population has morphed overnight into a democratic power base with it’s authentic voice, led by the youth and is constraining the Erdogan dictatorship at every turn while exposing to the rest of the world the oppressive tendencies of the 10 year AKP regime.   

The resistance movement has caught many by surprise both in and outside of Turkey:  Older generations in Turkey are shocked by the courage and efficiency of it’s  youth and skill.   As revealed in conversations with older opposition party leaders, academics and top business people, the initial reaction is one of overall support mixed with disbelief, quickly followed by skepticism:  “The movement needs a leader”.   I have witnessed naive attempts to even think through viable candidates to find someone palatable to the millenials but with “more experience” (older).    While this is well intentioned, it is unnecessary:  The resistance derives much more power with the all inclusive and decentralized structure it has adopted.   Once a leadership is identified, it is likely to face risk of oppressive targeting and dispersing by the AKP regime.   The resistance movement, as a whole, is better equipped to craft a strategy in collaboration when compared to the limited ability of an individual or a smaller committee.   In addition, it would be premature to limit the leadership potential of the movement at early stages when the first objective needs to be public inclusion and education in order to help build a large power base.

The government of Turkey is the second contingency who has been caught short by the resistance movement:  Erdogan’s reaction to each new innovative form of civil disobedience has been completely erroneous, responding to peaceful protests with violence.  Police officers, whose id numbers, which appear on their helmets, was concealed.   AKP has prohibited the media channels they control (which is most of the newspapers, channels in Turkey) from covering the protest movement, and fining independent Halk TV  for their uncensored coverage with a pretext of showing cigarette smoking.  During the June 22nd riots in Turkey, Halk TV cameras were attacked by the police and while the pro-government NTV channel’s reporter was on live TV talking about the lack of violence and use of chemicals for public control, they started coughing due to tear gas.

The third contingency surprised and unprepared against the movement is the international community:  While Claudia Roth of the German Green Party traveled to Turkey and experienced the police violence first hand, US President Obama, a “close friend” of AKP’s Erdogan, by self admission, has to date failed to issue a statement condemning the use of police violence against peaceful protestors.   The US nod to the resistance movement would have been a keen foreign policy move for several reasons:  Domestically, such a statement would espouse the democratic values of the USA, and from a foreign policy stand-point, a “moral investment” in the future decision making body in the new Turkish government would constitute a wise  decision for purposes of future collaboration.   Sadly, it appears that the US foreign policy strategists have not internalized the lessons of 9-11 and the Arab Spring and will wait until a regime change instead of keeping their hand of the pulse of the popular consent. 

Despite miscalculations by the older generations in Turkey, the oppressive regime and the international community, the resistance movement forges ahead to help develop not one but multiple natural leaders in the long run, while establishing as powerful an influencing base of power as possible. The resistance movement has become a force to drive change bottom up:  Ethnic and religious minorities function together with tolerance but in equality.   The resistance is clearly the new guard for anyone who suffers from government oppression, gender or ethnic discrimination or does not want to live in, or bring their children up in a third world nation under control of outsiders.    That’s most of Turkey right now.

The level of skill required to undertake a successful civil disobedience movement is what’s required to run Turkey.  The movement does not have to be understood at this stage by all domestic and international contingencies in order to produce it’s own natural leaders and path.  

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Luke Montgomery’s “A Deceit to Die For”

With all its intricacy and deceit, Turkish politics reads like a page turner. It was about time someone created a skillful and intelligent page turner using Turkey and its politics as the base.  Luke Montgomery has done exactly that.

Montgomery’s well-researched book draws from the incredible but real affairs in Turkey:  The quiet suffering of the Turkish people during the last 10 years from the Orwellian policies of an Islamic regime during which journalists are jailed for criticizing the government, the right to free speech is stifled by intimidating the public and where the government is the Big Brother who monitors private conversations and limits web access- all while the Western World has declared the ruling Islamic party an example of a new and convenient concept they coined “Moderate Islam”.   Meanwhile, the Turkish government has eliminated the internal checks and balances that are supposed to keep it under control in order to reign without consequences:  The fictitious “Balyoz”  case eliminated the opposing Military echelon while another manufactured plot called “Ergenekon” implicated intellectuals critical of the regime.  

Meanwhile, the common Turk is aware of Imam Gulen who lives in PA, USA who owns Turkish media channels, whose network infiltrated bureaucracy.  Gulen operates hundreds of schools globally, including in the US via his organization and network.  

“A Deceit to Die For” takes place in the UK, the USA, Egypt and Turkey.  A collection of letters and books acquired by Professor O’Brien contain a document someone wants to keep a secret at whatever expense.   His family in the US find themselves against an international organization who is trying to bury the secret forever.   The story breathlessly unfolds an international mystique.  The framework is meticulously researched and the reader is treated to real slices of life from modern Istanbul, the dynamics between government institutions and social classes.  It has realistic snapshots of suicide bombers, Hizbullah terrorists, government sympathizers with veiled wives.

If you are in Turkey, do not bother looking for the author’s web site www.lukemontgomery.net which is censored.  Try Amazon instead. 

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The View from Turkey: Syria and the PKK

There have been two puzzling changes in recent Turkish policy: The first is Turkey’s complete shift in attitude toward Syria’s President Assad, and the second is the seemingly bold declaration by Prime Minister Erdogan that the PKK will be reprimanded following the month of Ramadan, the religious holiday of the Muslims. To reconcile the suddenness of these changes, we could wait for the release of leaked diplomatic cables, or we could instead consider them in a broader global context to better understand the drivers behind them.

In the recent years, Turkey, under the Justice and Development Party (AKP), has rallied a “zero problems” policy with its neighbors. The cornerstone of this policy was abolishing visa requirements with Syria and fortifying economic and political collaboration. Marked by multiple landmark visits between state officials and with heavy domestic promotion, relations with Syria flourished as the trade volume between the two nations reached $2.5 billion in 2010, representing a 43% increase over 2009. In 2008, Turkey brokered talks between Syria and Israel on the Golan Heights territory and the two nations also collaborated on cracking down on their Kurdish minorities against a threat of cross border collusion.

Early this August, Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu visited Syria’s Assad for a meeting, which marked a complete turning point in relations between Syria and Turkey. Turkey shifted its formerly friendly position by delivering a very tough message that instructed Assad to stop the savagery toward its own people. To understand the drastic and sudden change in Turkey’s position, we need to consider Syria’s own position and significance in the region and the implications of this for Israel and the US:

Syria represents a primary security threat for Israel, which keeps guard along the shared border: The Alawite Syrian career soldiers are closely aligned with the Assad regime and the Syrian investment in modern weapons to fortify defenses is also well known.

Historically, Syria has supported both the Hamas and the Hezbollah and has been dependent on its close ally, Iran. On the trade front, China and Russia have both been involved in Syria with key infrastructure projects. As an ancient point on the Silk Road, Syria represents an outlet to a large trading area for China, as well as a link between the Nabucco line and gas from Egypt and Iraq via a connection which was approved to be completed in 2011. In the short term, Syria would have been a recipient, but as Iraqi gas becomes available, the line would also serve Turkey and the EU via Syria. It is no coincidence that Russia has opposed the recent EU ban on oil imports from Syria. Because of Syria’s role as a potential gateway to the Middle East and the Mediterranean, for China and Russia, a presence in Syria offers the ability to grow both trade volumes and influence.

The factors that render Syria a potential political and economical hot pot in the Middle East gives the US the impetus to exercise a higher degree of authority over the Syrian regime, which it has tried by exercising influence through allies and is clearly unlikely to achieve with the Assad government in place.

On the US domestic front, the Obama regime cannot afford a direct involvement in Syria and must instead push its agenda through others, such as Turkey’s AKP. Leaked US diplomatic cables illustrate that Turkey’s cultivated “influence” over Syria was noted by the US as far back as 2009.

Syria’s relatively high military spending and capabilities mean that a direct intervention is unlikely to quickly bring in a regime change. The most viable strategy for the US remains a concentrated effort though its allies in the region to provoke and justify the Syrian protesters to continue demonstrations to overturn Assad.

Armed with the “Arab Spring” term properly coined and its winds of change beneath its wings, the USA is able to facilitate the regional powers to withdraw support for Assad. Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz made an anti Assad speech on August 8th and several Arab nations pulled their ambassadors from Syria within the same timeframe as Davutoglu’s visit to Syria.

From the Turkish perspective, things look different on the surface: AKP’s “zero problems policy,” aimed at establishing Turkey as a regional leader and a go to mitigator for western powers, is a role that Turkey vies for in order to manage power regionally. Parting ways with Syria and also alienating Iran therefore renders Turkey’s “zero problems” policy a failure and is an example of inconsistency for Davutoglu, the architect of that policy. What, then, has convinced the AKP to “sell the farm”?

Coinciding with the US’s efforts to topple Assad and with an announcement that the Obama regime is freezing Syrian assets, Turkey started an air raid of the Kurdish territory in Northern Iraq mid-August. This act essentially marked an end to the so called “Kurdish Opening”, a new policy Turkey’s Erdogan had declared a couple of years back in order to work to resolve the deep conflict between the state and Turkey’s Kurdish population.

While only a few years back, Turkey’s military activities in Northern Iraq would have categorically provoked a US reaction, today, a quiet nod is all the Turkish bombs received. The US State Department told the press that “...the United States recognizes the right of Turkey to defend itself against terrorist attacks”. With the rest of the international community turning a blind eye, the Turkish government is now able to attack the Kurds as it had been wanting to, but could not until the US approved of it.

For Prime Minister Erdogan, resolving the “PKK problem,” as it is defined domestically, would translate to increased domestic support and, in the long term, would usher a personal historic legacy. According to the bargain, Turkey is no longer expected to oppose sanctions against the Syrian regime- rather, we may see it side with the international community to cheer for Assad’s successor.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Turkey's Dilemma

Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) won its third major round of elections in June 2011 securing one out of every two votes. This represents an increase over past performance of 34% of votes in 2002 and 46.6% of votes in 2007.

Not only is it unusual for a party to retain its position over almost a decade, the extent of AKP’s success at the elections is inconsistent with large protest demonstrations against AKP’s policies leading up to the June elections. These included: Students, who were cheated in the university entrance exams when the AKP sympathizers were offered pre-sorted exam books with a key for the answers, Kurdish citizens whose candidates for parliament AKP attempted to block from running as independents, healthcare workers who are subject to new “service standards” such as examining patients within several minutes at government owned hospitals. To put it mildly, the Turkish vote reflects a great deal of polarization between AKP supporters and its opposition.

An analysis of AKP’s strategy to embed itself in the Turkish system would help framework the dynamics and offer clues as to what it will require for Turkey to normalize its democratic process in the future.

Historically, the typical Turkish authoritarian party structure has not truly represented a voter base. Nomination of local representatives is typically decided not by local politics but by party management with the party leader generally making any critical decisions without consultation to the base. The authoritarian party system has therefore rendered the locals incapable of exercising a meaningful sphere of influence and it has led to an environment where representatives serve only the party leader under whose rule the party operates without real accountability.

The democratic deficit within the party structures plagues the Turkish political scene by causing political fragmentation with many smaller parties forming over the years as well as a deep divide between the ruling elite and the public.

Fragmentation of the party system historically created volatility with unstable and ineffective coalition governments leading to coup d’├ętats about every ten years until 1983. Alienated from party politics, the public is discouraged from seeking representation and has been conditioned to vote not based on ideology but more on expectation of personal gains. Of note, AKP voters are the breadwinning public, primarily between the ages of 28 and 48. This group consists of younger families, and stands to gain the most economically.

A deep class divide between the ruling elite and the public has long caused distress among the middle and lower classes in Turkey, creating a sense of “otherness” and lack of control to build a future. This sentiment is the vulnerability of the Turkish system the AKP has been able to leverage.

In stark contrast to former political leaders such as Mr. Demirel or Mr Ecevit, AKP leaders resemble in appearance, speech and behavior, the Turkish middle and lower classes. Mr. Demirel, who served Turkey multiple times as prime minster and later as president, is a civil engineer and a former representative of a US construction company and Mr. Ecevit, also multiple times a prime minster was a product of western style education followed by a University of London degree as well as a very acceptable poet.

Mr. Erdogan’s use of colloquial language and unbridled temper resonates with the Turkish public. He does not speak like a statesman, but comes across like a backgammon buddy with a temper problem who does not feel the need to defend his logic and instead spews out at Westerners and the Israelis. He is the Turkish public’s panacea to their age old problem of inferiority complex vis a vis both its ruling elite and the Western World.

AKP stands on three principles widely accepted by the general public: Conservatism, service and religion. Positioned as a conservative party with central appeal provides AKP with a wide base in Turkey where right wing and centrist parties have historically received two thirds of the vote. 30% of Turks define themselves as right wing as opposed to 18% as left leaning.

The AKP web site touts that since 2002, the number of cities with access to natural gas has increased from 9 cities to 67, inflation has been capped at single digits, divided highways have been built through the country and the budget for education has been more than quadrupled.

While almost all Turks are registered as Muslims, more than 10% belong to the progressive Alevite community and only less than 20% of all Turks describe themselves as religious. Therefore, religion, by itself is not a determining variable in winning AKP the elections. It does, however serve as a “proxy” to convey humility and “trustworthiness”, both of which are critical values to the Turkish voter.

AKP Islamism is at juxtaposition with the secular parties of yesteryear, and AKP’s religious traditionalism plays into its contrast with the former ruling elite as well as the current opposition.

A poll to identify motivations to support the AKP would reveal that majority believe they will reap direct economic benefits – examples would range from free supplies for children in the public school system to direct aid and health services. A smaller portion of voters would state that they are attracted by Erdogan’s identifiable persona. A relatively small percentage would claim they are motivated by traditional values and Islam.

In order to burrow itself into Turkish democracy, AKP has relied on more than its key principles of traditionalism, service and religion by handicapping opposition via media outlets almost all of which have been sold to AKP partisans and all now censor opposing viewpoints while embellishing AKP’s accomplishments. There are more journalists in jail in Turkey at this point in time than in China and the largest national internet censor, arbitrarily prohibiting thousands of web sites will be in affect in August.

AKP opposition has a difficult task in front or it in the next four years. CHP, the main opposition party has performed reasonably well in the June elections by initially adding 23 seats in the parliament. It has, however, not been able to overcome AKP under whose regime the next four years will net out with irreversible damage as Erdogan is expected to transition the country to an “American style” presidency and select himself the new president. Of particular risk is the new constitution AKP has announced it will create - With 327 seats in the parliament, AKP is only 3 seats short of the 330 seats required to write the constitution without seeking consensus.

In order for CHP to succeed, it will have to do more than defend its seats and its role in forming the constitution: It must operate via a grass roots organization and give the public the hope of representing themselves and the ability to make decisions locally. An efficient penetration campaign is required as well as an urgent image overhaul the CHP’s image away from something that resembles yesterday’s ruling elite into one that reflects the voter base. Using an analogy from the traditional Ottoman shadow, where one of the characters, Karagoz represents the lower income citizen while another named Hacivat, represents the elite, CHP needs to modify its image to become more of a Karagoz than a Hacivat vis a vis the AKP.

Not to underestimate the gravity of CHP’s task, the level of dissatisfaction among minorities and interest groups with the AKP along with a severe degree of polarization the 2011 results indicate- CHP could succeed in the next round of elections.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Stuck Pendulum of Politics in Turkey

If a pendulum in equilibrium position is displaced, gravity will counteract to restore the pendulum to its neutral resting position.   The pendulum’s mass causes this “centering” oscillation.  Not only is a pendulum used in timekeeping, it is also a model for helping explain political oscillations between the left and right of the center:  When an election yields a shift from left to right or vice versa, analyst claim that it’s the natural reaction of the pendulum swinging in the opposite direction, meaning the public feels that policies of a regime have gone too far to one side and that the public has decided to give the other side of the political range a chance to correct. 
The Turkish political pendulum has been in the rightward swing for quite some time under the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and appears to be held there despite its natural tendency to oscillate back.   AKP first won the 2002 general elections and reinforced its position in 2007 while its Islamist tendencies became more obvious.   Turkey’s general elections are fast approaching this June and once again polls show AKP in the lead, despite a narrowing margin.  
How is it possible that AKP still seems to have a strong base and does the general population have access to information to formulate an opinion on their preferences?
Based on the pendulum metaphor alone, and considering that AKP has been ruling for a very long 9 years, we would expect the public to reverse direction.   In a way, this is the case:   During a stroll down a busy Istanbul street, you can see multiple groups of citizens protesting against the government. 
Theoretically, AKP’s voter base should be dwindling-  High school and university students, have been alienated entirely:  In Turkey, university seats are limited and this national test guarantees admittance so when it was recently revealed that a cheat code was shared with certain groups of students at the recent university exams,  a great deal of reaction resulted.  Healthcare workers were also pushed around with badly planned new labor regulations, forcing practitioners to shut down their private offices and instead work at government hospitals where pay is now proportional to standards such as a “a tooth filling in 4 minutes” and patient exam in 5.  Social services, including healthcare, are now cut off if the recipient is unable to make a monthly payment, placing seasonal workers, especially farmers at risk.
While segments of consumers directly hurt by the AKP policies grow in number, AKP is loading the stakes to benefit its partisans:  Ankara Chamber of Medicine documented at least 51 “professors” who have been assigned professor titles without fulfilling any of the requirements by the Council of Higher Education.  AKP has replaced elected university rectors with its own sympathizers,  On the other hand, Koranic lower schools have been mushrooming and their graduates can now move into universities and subsequently into government jobs.

To the ordinary citizen, the Turkish system appears to be one of relying on government subsidies and the good graces of the ruling party in order to survive and prosper which inevitably means a citizen must belong to the AKP, go to pray at a mosque every Friday even if they are an Alevite or non religious and the wives are expected to don a head scarf.   Once they “join” this group, they are encouraged to do business with others in the group- An established shop owner in the fashionable Nisantasi district was recently overheard complaining that the “AKP bunch” are the only ones with money but they only frequent businesses operated by their kind. 
How far can the AKP go with the carrot and stick approach to maintain its supporter base?  In a relatively poor nation lacking education in critical thinking, it can go farther than one would estimate.  There may be an abundance of citizens inclined to sell their vote to the highest bidder just so their children can eat, get into schools, receive free school supplies as one taxi driver shared recently.
Of course, AKP cannot bribe the entire voter base which explains the widespread dissent in the major cities.   AKP wants to minimize this risk by buying out the media channels and facilitating their sales to partisan institutions. One of the largest groups, ATV-Sabah was sold in 2007 to Calik Holding headed by the Prime Minister’s son in law.  Dogan Media Group faced bureaucratic pressures and tax fines coercing it to place Hurriyet, a popular newspaper on sale.  The levy, seen as the governments attempt to control free press was criticized by the US State Departments 2009 Human Rights report on Turkey. 
June 12th general elections in Turkey will be a critical turning point- If AKP manages to win, Erdogan is interested in constitutional changes to enable his presidency, a move which will help secure him a Putin style position of power.   Putin, like his friend Erdogan, wants a “dictator-length” hold on Kremlin:   After two consecutive terms, the former KGB colonel had transitioned presidency to Medvedev in 2008 but continues to wield his influence as a prime minister.  Putin hasn’t yet ruled out presidency in 2012.   Parallels are so obvious that one wonders how often Putin and Erdogan exchange “how-to” notes.
 AKP is a liability to Turkey, where it has interfered with the natural flow of political tendencies and the free will of the voters by utilizing public resources to bribe its partisans in order to stay in power.   The situation will only get worse if AKP wins the June elections and Erdogan gets his “US Style” presidency.   Unlike in the US, Turkey is now void of a system of checks and balances and a Presidential system would generate an uncontrolled one-man show, further depressing the protections around the judicial freedom.   This is a scary scenario that leaves AKP opponents completely unprotected and must be avoided at all expense.  

Thursday, March 24, 2011

AKP's Achilles Heel

On March 13th 30,000 doctors, nurses, pharmacists, lab technicians and other healthcare workers from across Turkey travelled to Ankara to hold what may have been the largest anti-government protest to date. Turkish healthcare is in very poor shape. Yet, the AKP only wants to have its own share by selling state institutions to the highest bidder. Yesim Erez examines the AKP's slow murder of the Turkish healthcare system.

Turkey, under the Justice and Development Party (AKP) is increasingly run as an autarchy. With the June general elections looming, it is busy manufacturing consent. A victory in June will be much more than just a political win, it will allow AKP to continue the implementation of neo-liberal policies, limiting welfare and increasing costs in an environment already lacking social balance. Among these industries is healthcare, traditionally a state welfare system which provides a safety net to the poorest classes. Number of physicians per capita is less than half of the OECD average and according to ’06 UN population data, infant mortality at 27.5 deaths per 1000 born, a figure several times higher than any country in the EU. Turkish healthcare spending actually needs to be better managed and increased as a whole but AKP wants to have its cake and eat it too. How this is carried out is examined below:

To quiet dissent, AKP has obtained control of media by buying national outlets. More than 50 journalists are in prison on charges of a so-called “Ergenekon plot” to overthrow the government, a measure meant to serve as a scare tactic for the remaining independent media outlets which are already wire tapped by the government. The September 2009 referendum called for a Yes/No vote on a package deal of 26 constitutional amendments and the results limited the military’s, Constitutional Court’s and the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors powers to show opposition or to remain independent. 

Healthcare, an Achilles heel for the AKP, had been a large driver in the 2002 and the 2007 elections, as votes are typically driven by individuals’ needs rather than political issues. Healthcare generally ranks at the top of issues that drive the vote and AKP predictably aims to use healthcare to garner votes in the upcoming general election in June.

On the other hand, AKP juggles wider access to healthcare with keeping healthcare expenditures low as deficit has a direct impact on Turkey’s credit rating. The two objectives being at odds, there is no way to optimize a real solution in the short term so marginal payments for healthcare services were introduced and also a set of regulations depriving citizens who owe on insurance premiums was passed. The new law cuts cost further by pushing out of the social welfare system, not only unemployed and seasonal workers but also women, who are increasingly under-employed under the AKP regime, by excluding them from health insurance coverage as dependents of their families. (Cosar/Yegenoglu 4/09). Government cash reimbursements for state health benefits to hospitals is also being reduced, controlled and delayed.

The Turkish State Statistics Agency conducted a 2009 report on public satisfaction reporting a 15 percentage point increase in overall satisfaction with healthcare services since 2003 to 65%.   While AKP,s move to allow citizens use their state benefits at private hospitals gained public praise, the highest driver of dissatisfaction was healthcare worker availability, followed by the response to a leading question “How satisfied are you that doctors serving at public hospitals are allowed to have their private practices?”. The construct of this state survey foreshadows the AKP agenda to force doctors to leave private practice positions to only work in public hospitals.

70% of all Turkish inpatient healthcare facilities are publicly owned. According to a brand new set of healthcare regulations, doctors working part-time in state hospitals must now close down any private offices, giving up their only meaningful income. In state hospitals, compensation has been switched to become proportional to the number of patients examined and the number of surgeries performed. Appointments are dictated at 5 minutes per patient and no more or the doctors pay is cut, a move that seriously increases the likelihood of malpractice. 

In response to the new regulations, doctors in the public sector began resigning to practice privately. AKP then confronted them with a new by-law which enumerated unreasonable requirements for private offices including dictating the office size, the dimensions of the doors and the number of toilets, effectively precluding opening of a new office. This new by-law compelled most of the doctors who only worked in their private practice to quit working.

Pay for performance system dictates that training of residents at teaching hospitals is now neglected due to an abnormal schedule and patient overload. Furthermore, to cosmetically increase the number of general practitioners referred to as “family doctors”, a grossly inadequate 10 day training was implemented for medical school graduates who lack specialization, following which, they are allowed to serve as general practitioners. The AKP regulations are thrown together in haste, without either consultation with medical professionals, or consent from professional associations. More importantly, they endanger public health and health education for the price of making short term cosmetic changes.

On one hand, AKP is coercing physicians to work only for state run hospitals, on the other hand, it is squeezing out private hospitals not affiliated with its sympathizers: It holds the purse strings of state benefits reimbursements to private hospitals, and has control over the cash position of each hospital. Medical Park chain, 40% of which was recently sold the US firm Carlyle, or example, is rumored to be owned by those close to the prime minister. Remainder of the private hospitals have to deal with a severe cash constraint imposed by the government and were told they can increase co-pays from 30% to 70% in order to make up the shortage, making them very expensive.

In March 2010, AKP adopted a State Hospitals Union Bill which requires a gradual privatization of all state hospitals.  While the move is concealed as an attempt to bring market economies, it actually aims to sell off state hospitals to the highest bidder with no concern for public health. Privatizing the public system will decrease the quality of the healthcare and eradicate an important safety net for the working class.

Doctors, nurses, pharmacists, lab technicians- the entire community of healthcare workers are dismayed about AKP’s policies held what may have been the largest public protest in the capital city of Ankara on March 13th. Over 30,000 professionals from all over the country traveled to Ankara, the capital to hold a protest together in harsh winter conditions. Photos from the event can be seen on www.tabip.tv but there was no significant media coverage of the event. While this is partially explained by the fact that media outlets have been quieted, neither of the main opposition parties CHP and MHP made meaningful endorsements of the healthcare professionals cause. Both have refrained from aligning against the AKP on the healthcare issue since the consent AKP has “manufactured” around its success of its health policies. 

Not standing up against AKP’s slow murder of the Turkish healthcare system is a mistake CHP and MHP must avoid making.  Healthcare is AKPs Achilles heel and laying out an alternative plan that saves public health and addresses the valid concerns of the Turkish healthcare professionals could help the opposition win the next election.