Erdogan campaigns, the YSK sleeps

The legal calendar for the upcoming June 7 election began on March 10, 2015. It was then that all political parties participating in the elections had to submit their lists of candidates to the Supreme Election Board (YSK). It was also then that the parties began declaring their platforms to the public, and this was followed by the start of the campaign season. These days, we are all talking much more about the campaign being waged by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan — who is employing all the tools of the state — than about any particular party’s campaign.

This is because President Erdogan speaks nearly every day, and most of his speeches are carried live by many TV stations, often cutting their regular broadcasts to bring us his words. Sometimes he gives speeches in different places on the same day when this happens he becomes the number one topic for the media. His speeches address a panoply of people — sometimes merchants or academics, other times reps from civil society organizations. He also speaks, quite frequently, at official openings in various cities this invariably provides him an opportunity for election campaigning. Occasionally he’ll hold what he refers to as a “thank you rally.” And of course, the governors of the local provinces always do what they can to ensure that these rallies are packed and buoyant.

So, when Erdogan addresses, for example, university rectors in his speeches, does he focus on some of the problems plaguing Turkish institutions of higher education? When addressing journalists, does he touch on some of the many media-related problems Turkey has these days? Or when he shows up at the official opening of a new facility, does his speech tend to highlight the advantages that the new facility (whatever it may be) will bring about? Does he ever really listen to the complaints or the demands of the citizens in the cities he visits?

Well, let’s just say, if the answer were “yes” to any of the above questions, our complaint at this point would be limited to something along the lines of, “Wow, he really talks a lot,” or, “Hmm, he seems to be on the road all the time.” But this is not the case. The problem is that the president is now involved in clear and open electoral campaigning. He talks about the political agenda. He responds in person to rhetoric and actions by opposition parties. He lavishes praise onto the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its deeds, while loudly criticizing anything done by opposition parties. He makes no secret of trying to guide the voters towards the ruling party.

For example, when the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) declared that if they came to power minimum wages would be raised and the government would help farmers to purchase fuel, the first response came from Erdogan himself, not from the main flanks of the ruling AKP. When the opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) promised that if they came to power they would eliminate the Religious Affairs Directorate, once again, the first response was heard from Erdogan. He declared, while waving a Quran, that the HDP was an “enemy of religion.”

Evident in Erdogan’s most recent speeches is a particular emphasis on targeting the HDP and its leader, Selahattin Demirtai. This of course is because if the HDP is able to exceed the 10 percent electoral threshold, it’ll make it very difficult for the AKP to come to power single-handedly.

All of Erdogan’s speeches are filled with vitriol and accusations against the opposition at the same time, he commands his listeners to “give us 400 seats in Parliament.” He himself says quite openly that the number 400 is critical for the transition to the presidential system. Notably, it is really only the AKP that defends this model of government that would make Erdogan president. When pressed, Erdogan says, “There is a party that lies in my heart, but because I am objective, I cannot say which one.”

Yes, Erdogan is quite openly wielding all the tools of the state to carry out election campaigning for the AKP. In doing so, he is violating the Constitution. He is not able to be objective.

But in the midst of all this, what is the YSK — which is supposed to ensure that elections are carried out freely, openly and honestly — doing? Nothing! Two applications made to the YSK regarding Erdogan’s words aimed at the HDP were rejected. And actually, this is just as terrible a development as Erdogan’s open campaigning for the AKP.

We live in a country where judges can be arrested for the decisions they render. So maybe none of the above should surprise us. The upcoming June 7 election is, despite everything, an opportunity to rise and defend law and democracy in the face of all the tyranny and arbitrary rule we see around us. We are obliged to make good.