ABDULLAH – Public trust in government on decline

Public trust in government on declineThe most alarming casualty from the damage inflicted on Turkey by political Islamists, who have effectively seized power in the government and suspended the rule of law in order to save corrupt politicians and their associates, is the rapid decline of citizens’ trust in the democratic institutions of Turkey.A recent MetroPOLL survey provided us with evidence indicating that the precious trust in state institutions is at an all-time low, raising the specter of difficult challenges ahead for the nation.

The populist, radical and hateful discourse the top Islamist, Recep Tayyip ErdoIan, has adopted since Dec. 17, 2013, when a massive corruption investigations implicated himself, his family members and friends, already revealed that Turkey is moving fast to an authoritarian style of governance.

But the survey results confirmed this widely held perception, which was expressed by many concerned intellectuals.On a scale of one to 10, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government received a score of 52 in this survey while Parliament got 53 The highest score in terms of public trust was attained by the Presidency, with 61 Even that figure represents a dramatic decline from the December 2007 figure, when President Abdullah Gul received 82, an all-time high score by any institution.

It is obvious that Gul’s recent unwise steps, such as the approval of highly controversial bills in curbing freedom of expression on the Internet, allowing the government to control the judiciary and banning private prep schools, have taken a big toll on his popularity and the reputation of his office.The military received 59 while the police scored 49 in the same survey.

The government’s turning most media outlets into a propaganda machine with which fabricated stories were unscrupulously published to smear and discredit its critics and opponents also weakened the trust of the public in the press, which scored 35, the lowest score. Politicians, who received a score of 36, were also seen as less trustworthy.

Politicians seem to care more about what their party leaders think rather than complaints from residents in their constituencies. That reinforced the feeling of the powerlessness of political institutions in taking care of citizens’ demands.

In ErdoIan’s Turkey, the ballot box means everything and majoritarian rule is the absolute truth. Political parties are the one and only vehicles for citizen participation in political life.

Anybody else, be it businessmen, jurists, journalists or activists, needs to shut up or drop everything in their professional lives and join or set up a political party to challenge ErdoIan’s rule. Engaging with social networks and the involvement of civil society as a legitimate pressure group in the political arena has been a red line for ErdoIan’s band of political Islamists.

The communication with the electorate is a one-way street through which the ErdoIan government dictates its own values and imposes its own narrow vision of the world where Islamists unrealistically collaborate in a sort of supra-national level.The fact that the government has lost connection with the people when it stopped reaching out, especially the younger generation, was the main reason in provoking youngsters from all walks of life during the Gezi events of last year to rebel against the ErdoIan government.

With the ruling party-dominated Parliament turned into a rubberstamping law factory and with communications channels severely blocked, the younger generation was left with the only tool that can be utilized to make a point: street demonstrations. Participatory democracy in which different stakeholders take an active part in shaping policy or legislation between elections has been encouraged in democracies.

Yet, since 2011, the ErdoIan government has turned into a repressive regime that actively discourages the right to dissent and the strengthening of critical voices. Instead of lending an ear to grievances, it quickly transformed into an overbearing government that accuses opponents of betraying the nation for opposing views.

The only way to increase public trust in state institutions is to promote transparency and accountability in the government. However, Turkey pushed away from those values when the government rushed to save the corrupt politicians from a sea of legal troubles with arbitrary laws, non-enforcement of court orders and blatant interference by political authorities into judicial investigations.

The auditing mechanism with transparent procedures was suspended and the parliamentary oversight role on government expenditures was significantly curtailed if not totally lifted. What is more, ErdoIan pursues a highly divisive agenda that stigmatizes and marginalizes large diverse groups in Turkey instead of promoting a dialogue between state institutions and civil society for a better representative government.

That widens the confidence gap furtherVoter turnout in the Turkish elections has never been a major issue as the figures usually run high even during military coup eras. Although there is no voter fatigue in that sense, there is certainly a growing feeling of a lack of trust in the electoral process.

The local elections held in March were marred by a number of irregularities and allegations of fraud committed by ruling party representatives. Popular vote-buying, ballot-box stuffing and altering vote tallies were common accusations leveled at the government by the opposition.

The unfair aantage the governing party and their candidates had against the opposition by using and abusing state privileges and powers helped the ruling party at the expense of others.The weakening of trust in public institutions in Turkey is also accompanied by a decline in the management of the economy and foreign policy.

Fifty-one percent of respondents in the MetroPOLL survey said they find the government foreign policy a failure as opposed to 41 percent, with the remainder undecided or having declined to comment. A similar breakdown on management of the economy was also recorded as more people feel the economy is not doing well.

Both the Iraqi and Syrian foreign policies of the ErdoIan government have been at the top of the list of many who think the government should not interfere in developments in these two countries. They are also worried about possible terrorist attacks from radical groups such as al-Qaeda or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

More than 50 percent of respondents believe ISIL has been organizing itself in Turkey, as opposed to 26 percent who did not agree with that view.The growing restrictions on access to information and the government’s reluctance to respond to even parliamentary inquiries have further eroded citizens’ trust in state institutions.

The illegal and unconstitutional profiling of unsuspecting citizens based on their views, affiliations, ethnic, religious and ideological identities as revealed by investigative reporters in the Turkish media also shook Turks’ confidence in the ErdoIan government. For many reasons, most people suspect that the government eavesdrops on their conversations and communications.

The revelations of personal details of government critics and the publication of these in pro-government media that acts as a propaganda machine indicate ErdoIan has turned the intelligence organization into his personal detective agency.The end result of the erosion of trust in public institutions is the increasing difficulty to govern a large country with 77 million citizens.

Turkey is now more prone to crises in governance that may reach a flashpoint as we have seen many times during the last eight months. Perhaps that is what ErdoIan needs in order to survive politically in the short run.

What he does not realize is that this is simply not sustainable. It will eventually reach a breaking point when the authoritarian system he helped build is going to collapse under its own weight, trapping the current prime minister among the relics of the political graveyard.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman