Not an election but a referendum

In the Turkish legal system presidents have no accountability under the law, except for the crime of “treason.” Although our Constitution gives some specific powers to the president, like appointing rectors to universities and some judges to the Constitutional Court, all governing powers and responsibilities stay with the government. We still, in theory at least, have a parliamentary system of government.

However, we have a huge problem here in terms of being accountable and who has power. The other day our Supreme Election Board (YSK) made a decision on a complaint filed by the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) that presented the fundamental dilemma of Turkish democracy. The HDP had complained to the YSK about President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s unfair interference in the election process and his acting like the leader of the governing party, even though he took an oath to be impartial and above politics.

As Today’s Zaman reported, in its appeal to the election watchdog, the HDP urged the YSK to issue a formal warning to the president, saying, “Erdogan has been acting against his constitutional oath of neutrality and instead is acting like a party leader.” The YSK said it has no authority over the actions of the president.

The president is everywhere, but he has no responsibility for anything there is no way of holding him responsible for anything. He interferes with the judicial process he says what judges need to do and he says what the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) needs to do. He says what everyone needs to do. And do not think his words are just taken as advice. On the contrary — most of the time his words have the effect of direct orders.

For example, for the first time in our history, we have witnessed the arrest of judges for issuing the “wrong decisions.” These two judges were arrested after they were targeted by President Erdogan.

As the YSK decision shows us, there is no authority here in Turkey that can even warn President Erdogan about any of his actions. Let us admit the YSK does not have the power to warn the president, but it certainly does have the power to warn TV stations to stop broadcasting speeches by Erdogan about elections and political parties that are obviously in violation of our Constitution.

But instead, the YSK rejected in lightning speed the HDP’s demand that it warn Erdogan, like it was trying to throw away a fireball to prevent its hands from being burned.

Here we come to the fundamental dilemma of Turkey. We have not only a one-man regime but we are also witnessing the suspension of our Constitution. The whole system is being bent according to the wishes of one single man.

The upcoming elections, in this sense, are not only a matter of choosing this or that party but are also a kind of referendum on what Turkish society says about this de facto system and whether it wants this “system” to be institutionalized.