Erdogan campaigns in Europe

On Sunday night at a stadium in Hassalt, Belgium, a crowd of thousands could be heard cheering. The ambiance was electric in anticipation of the special guest who was due to arrive at any moment. So who was the guest? Justin Bieber? Madonna? Brad Pitt? In fact, it was not an A-list celebrity but Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the president of Turkey, very obviously campaigning for the June 7 parliamentary election.

Not content with drumming up votes for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Turkey, President Erdogan has taken the election campaign abroad. This past weekend he was in Belgium and Germany addressing tens of thousands of Turks, asking them to vote. In the past, Turks living abroad could vote in polling stations at border gates. However, on average only 7 percent of the some 2.6 million potential overseas voters voted. A change was made in the election law to allow the overseas electorate to vote at embassies, consulates and other designated areas. Coincidentally, this change took place several months before the August 2014 presidential election in which Erdogan was a candidate.

At that time, Erdogan also made a tour of several member states to drum up support for himself. This time, of course, Erdogan is not a candidate. According to the Turkish Constitution he should not be involved in the campaign at all he should be distancing himself from all political parties and taking a neutral position. He should be acting in a way that reduces the tensions and polarization that are inherent in the run-up to elections in Turkey. Is he doing this? Absolutely not.

Clearly, he is not opening telling the crowds to vote for the AKP. It is done in a covert and hybrid fashion by underlining all the good achievements of the AKP. In Belgium, where some 15,000 Turks listened to his over one-hour speech in which he looked back at the achievements of the AKP, stating that he found the current government to be doing well and said people should think about this as they cast their votes. Obviously, he had nothing to say about the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) or any other party in Turkey other than critique. Erdogan is so obviously overstepping his mandate, yet Turkey’s Supreme Election Board (YSK) rejected an appeal from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which had raised concerns over Erdogan’s impartiality and campaigning. The next step should be to bring the issue to the Constitutional Court, which remains just about the last independent organ of power in the country.

While not all Turks welcomed Erdogan, there were scuffles in Germany between some of Erdogan’s supporters and critics of his rule, with some others, including a lot of Kurds waved placards that read quotErdogan, you are anti-democratic,quot the majority were ecstatic over his presence. What I find very ironic is that the Turks that he addressed in Belgium and Germany really have very little idea about what is going on in Turkey. They do not understand that by voting for the AKP, they are helping to undermine the things that they take for granted and enjoy in Belgium, Germany and elsewhere — democracy, the rule of law, and civil liberties and freedoms. They are endorsing an increasingly authoritarian and intolerant regime. I also find the fact that the opposition CHP has not undertaken any serious tour of Turks abroad — to at least try to counter the AKP propaganda — disappointing.

While the foreign vote is not going to play a huge role in the election result, in order to get his “golden 400” — the number of seats the AKP needs to change the Constitution and usher in a presidential system of governance unhindered — President Erdogan will not leave any stone unturned.

In the aftermath of the Belgian visit, the newspaper, Le Soir, ran the following headline “C’est gracircce agrave Erdogan que la Turquie en est lagrave aujourd’hui.” This means, it is thanks to Erdogan that Turkey is what it is today. Indeed, I couldn’t agree more — the polarized, democracy and rule-of-law-light country, where criticizing the president can get you thrown in prison, that we see today is all thanks to Erdogan.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman