When ‘national will’ trumps the justice system

Every day in Turkey seems to bring with it new and extraordinary events, so much so that many of these events don’t receive the scrutiny they deserve.

Recently, orders from Ankara are alleged to have been behind the arrests of the two judges who ruled that journalist Hidayet Karaca and a large group of police officers should be released from prison. The public and media response to these arrests was quite weak, perhaps out of fear. But even the watered-down protests we heard from the public and some media were enough to trigger this sharp response from one high-up Justice and Development Party (AKP) official: “Yes, the independence of the justice system is important, but the national will is more important.”

Of course, “national will” is itself a rather amorphous term. The people of the nation are not obliged to accept and support without question every act and decision made by the party they elected at the ballot box.

In countries with democratic administrations, there is a healthy and vocal level of political and public opposition. What one doesn’t see in such democratic countries is the tendency to present government oppression as a reflection of “national will.” The political leadership in place now in Ankara simply moves ahead with whatever it sees as appropriate every act, every decision — whether or not it augurs well for Turkey and its people — is presented as “national will.” Approval of whatever the state did — no matter what it was — used to be called “hikmet-i hukumet” [close to the French expression, “raison d’eacutetat”] in the old Turkey. In the New Turkey, under the authoritarianism of the AKP, it’s called “national will.” It is an expression used to lend legitimacy to all actions, whether legal or not.

The false specter of a “parallel state” has been wielded over the past two years to scare anyone with serious objections to the AKP if these voices don’t give up their protests, the aim now is to simply eliminate them.

It is stating the obvious at this point to say that the AKP is harming itself. The old Turkey had many parties that resembled this profit-oriented, oppressive, closed-to-criticism political party that appears to be distancing itself so quickly from Western laws. In the beginning, the AKP could pick up votes and support as a champion of change and as a flag-bearer for democracy. Now it occupies the odd position of telling people it is still “different” from the old Turkey, while massacring the law, shelving democracy and clearly placing more importance on its own profits than the prosperity of the people. This rhetoric may be sustainable for a little while more with the support of the pro-government media. But in the long run, the masses will no longer support these lies. The short-term effect of proffering up social assistance to the masses may work for some time, but the people will not stand by as they are forced to pay the heavy price of the building economic crisis.

At this point the Ankara administration needs to start calculating how this political wreckage can be fixed. The vast damage done to politics, the economy and the state is now clear. State institutions and councils have lost all respect and trust from the people.

In all this, it’s of course sad that the AKP has wasted all its own political legacy and credit in the pursuit of a so-called Turkish-style presidential system. After all, Turkey has struggled so hard to reach this point. The vast amounts of democratic energy that have been wasted on personal goals within the AKP is also sad. But in the very near future, Turkey looks set to hear new and stronger voices calling for democratic rights.

Until now, there has never been an authoritarian structure and power actually able to surpass the desire and will of society to enjoy a good and fair life. Anyone who has studied world political history knows this. Assertions of patriotism only go so far in helping to cover up great crimes. And those who try to flog their desire to rule and run things as “national will” may hold power in their hands today, but they ought not to forget that the truth has a persistent way of emerging in the end.