Last call for Turkey

Traditionally, Turkey has been classified as an electoral democracy that has had free and fair elections since 1950.

Especially during the first term of the now openly oppressive Justice and Development Party (AK Party), we believed Turkey had finally met the minimum requirements of democracy as it began striving toward transitioning to a pluralist democracy. Much to our surprise, in an effort to stay in power in order to avoid accountability following massive corruption investigations, the AK Party has caused the country to regress in terms of democracy.

Just a couple of years ago, the nation was excited about replacing the Constitution, which is the legacy of the 1980 coup, but now we would feel grateful if even this Constitution was not violated by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the AK Party. Concerns over election security — given the irregularities and fraud that took place in the local elections of March 2014 — have never been so high in Turkey’s recent history. Electoral fraud is not simply the classic example of Energy Minister Taner Yildiz holding a cat responsible for a massive electricity cut during an election. Currently, 28 people are on trial for committing electoral fraud and those are the ones who were caught in the act.

It is hard to miss a certain level of despair among dissidents caused by learned helplessness. Many believe that the elections are already lost to the AK Party since “it controls everything.” Such pessimism does have some grounding, not only because the ruling party and government have become so intertwined and the vote counting software is not audited by any institution, but also because the opposition parties do not seem sufficiently prepared to fight extensive fraud at the ballot box. Although there are civic initiatives such as Oy ve Otesi (Vote and Beyond) that mobilize volunteers to monitor the votes and despite the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) introducing software that aims to double-check the official results, these all depend on an organized effort across the country. Compared to the AK Party’s army of observers during elections, the combined force of the opposition and civil society is unknown and probably unmatched. It is incredibly naive to hear from some opposition deputies that it is the government’s responsibility to ensure election security. As a Turkish saying goes, it would be no different than entrusting liver to a cat! No wonder a significant portion of society still finds the opposition hopeless despite the AK Party’s massive scandals.

Any election matters, but June 7 is a matter of life or death, especially for President Erdogan. His ambition to establish a presidential system, which in practice is already in place, depends on a strong mandate from the people. What matters for the AK Party, and more importantly for Erdogan, is to avoid accountability. Impunity is already the rule rather than the exception in Turkish political culture.

I had already argued that the presidential election of August 2014 was the last exit for Turkey before the bridge. Only a fraction of what the country has experienced since Erdogan’s election to the presidency proves the bridge has been crossed. Turkey has been paying a high price: unprecedented arrests of judges due to their verdicts frequent detentions and arrests of journalists, intellectuals or anyone who is vocally critical the further eradication of the rule of law, and immense pressure on the media. These examples of Erdogan’s “New Turkey” should give us an idea of what to expect if the AK Party receives a strong mandate in the upcoming election. Any unlawful practice or crackdown on dissidents is justified by the “the national will supports us” argument. Erdogan has even publicly said that it was his right to spend public money on election rallies since the nation elected him.

An unfair election campaign continues at all levels, the only tool an ordinary citizen has to stop the country from turning into a Baathist regime is their vote, which could also be stolen like the nation’s funds. It is imperative that the nation remains alert or it could be the last free and fair election for the country. This is the last call for Turkey before its permanent departure from its already fragile democracy.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman