Erdogan overload

When switching on a TV in Turkey these days the chances are you will be confronted by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan giving a speech.

In fact the majority of the national channels seem to have Erdogan on an endless loop.

The content of these never-ending speeches is by and large aimed at influencing Turkey’s 7 June parliamentary elections in a way that enhances the image of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), the party Erdogan co-founded and which he led up until August 2014, when he was elected president.

As I have written in previous columns, Erdogan’s blatant campaigning for the AKP is a flagrant violation of Turkey’s Constitution, which clearly states that the president must be impartial and not support one political party over another. This is definitely not the case. While openly acting as the main cheerleader for the AKP, Erdogan is also constantly undermining and criticizing the opposition parties — slating their policies and commitments. Furthermore, the fact that the Supreme Election Board (YSK) rejected an appeal from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which asked the body to warn the office of the presidency about “holding the election in line with the principle of impartiality” would seem to demonstrate that the body is far from independent as it is crystal clear that this is exactly what Erdogan is doing. The YSK has yet to publish the reasoning behind its decision.

In the past Erdogan’s characteristically combative campaigning has significantly contributed to outright victories for his party at three consecutive general elections in 2002, 2007 and 2011. However, this time it is slightly different because he has put himself at the heart of a campaign that is pushing for constitutional change, a change that would transfer executive powers to the presidency which, according to him, would allow the country to be run more efficiently than the current system of government. He means more efficiently than his colleagues are running the country. It is no secret that many in the AKP are not happy with this. If Erdogan succeeds, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoilu will find himself even more marginalized than he already is. Even more worrying is what this would mean for Turkish democracy. A presidency with unfettered powers — based on Erdogan’s track record of using heavy-handed tactics to silence his critics and opponents — is not an appetizing prospect.

The playing field is totally unfair in terms of the share of media coverage for each of the different parties. Beyond Erdogan’s discourse there are also the speeches of Davutoilu, and numerous, 24-hour-a-day news bulletins and flashes about these speeches and the AKP more generally. It is basically an AKP media fest with little space for the opposition. This is exactly what happened in the 2014 presidential and municipal elections. Other political parties got just a fraction of the airtime compared with the dominant AKP. The party also used it position in power to maximize its advantage during campaigning, with question marks raised over government money being spent to finance AKP election campaigns. In its report on the August 2014 presidential election, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) criticized Turkey for its government pressure on the media and unfair competition. Clearly nothing about this critique or its recommendations were taken into consideration based on what we are currently witnessing in Turkey.

However, the fact that Erdogan is campaigning so ferociously could be seen as an indication that he is not at all confident that the AKP will get the necessary result and seats to secure his goal. Furthermore, because Erdogan, who has clearly not let go of his ties with the AKP, will probably be held responsible for any outcome that significantly slashes the number of AKP deputies, such a result would probably confine him to a more symbolic presidency along the lines of that outlined by the Constitution, with the AKP taking on a new shape and a wounded Erdogan shouldered out. This would come as a big blow for Erdogan who has had few personal failures during his time in power.

Amid these shenanigans, it is not surprising that many Turks doubt the fairness of the country’s elections. In a recent survey carried out by academics Ali carkoilu and Erdem Aytac with the support of the Open Society Institute and Koc University, only 43 percent of Turks said they thought the general election would be fair, down a whopping 27 percent from the 70 percent mark in 2007.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman