Ministers were heckled, briefcases were hurled, but Turkey’s parliament has voted to send troops to the Middle East
After some fiery political debate, protests on the streets of Ankara and even the occasional scuffle in parliament, Turkey has decided to send troops to Lebanon. It means that up to a thousand soldiers will be sent before the end of the month, probably to the region surrounding the Litani river, 30 kilometres from the Israeli border. 340 MPs voted in favour of sending troops, 192 voted against, while one government MP abstained.
The government’s victory might have been easy, but the parliamentary sitting that delivered it last night was anything but. Government ministers were heckled, opposition parties derailed the debate for a few hours over a technicality on speaking times, and a few MPs even threw their briefcases at each other.
The opposition took every possible opportunity to exploit the overwhelming public mood against sending Turkish troops abroad, and were not ashamed to admit it afterwards. CHP leader Deniz Baykal said after the vote: “today’s meeting was beneficial in the sense that the public has become aware of the opposition’s stance”.
This morning’s papers were not nearly as outraged as the opposition seemed to be in parliament. Sure, fringe newspapers like the staunchly nationalist Milli Gazete did scream “This is the actual treachery”, while Vatan‘s splash read “None of their children are going to Lebanon”. The more reputable secular Cumhuriyet went with “In spite of the people”, but aside from these, the outrage in most mainstream papers simply wasn’t there. The headline in Posta, the country’s most popular, was “An appropriate step to Lebanon”. Other newspapers in the influential Doğan Media Group, including Hürryet,Milliyet and Radikal, went with similar leaders. Other pro-government papers quietly reported the result, and said little else.
Opposition parties might have picked up brownie points for uniting to put their weight behind public mood, but the reality is that the anti-war mood will pass. Yesterday’s vote will have little effect on AKP poll ratings – after all, it was this same AKP government that supported opening Turkish borders to American troops ahead of the invasion of Iraq, lost the vote in parliament, and went on to sweep the board at local elections the following year. In the meantime, it is important to recognise that Mr Erdoğan’s government has taken a difficult decision – but the right decision.