Lifting state of emergency should not merely be an election promise

Lifting state of emergency should not merely be an election promise

With nearly two weeks left until the June 24 elections, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced that his government would terminate the state of emergency that has been in place since July 2016, in the event that he is re-elected as head of the nation.

This has been one of the most important promises of all the opposition leaders since the very beginning of the election campaign. In this regard, whoever wins the presidency will not extend the state of emergency, ending the two-year rule.

It is important to recall: The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) had imposed the state of emergency right after the failed bloody coup in July 2016 in order to fight the coup plotters, to investigate the members of the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ) who have been involved in the coup.

Although the primary target under the state of emergency was FETÖ, the scope of the crackdown in this period has massively been enlarged, as many dissident academics, politicians, journalists and civil society representatives have either been jailed or prosecuted.

Former co-leaders of the Peoples’ Democracy Party (HDP) Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ have been detained along with a dozen HDP lawmakers, while scores of HDP mayors have been dismissed again in this period. Republican People’s Party (CHP) Istanbul lawmaker Enis Berberoğlu was jailed in June 2017, which had triggered a historic Justice March by Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu from Ankara to Istanbul. The government has issued more than 30 decree laws, and only half of them have been to fight the coup plotters. An overall assessment would surely depict that this period under the state of emergency has led to serious human rights violations and democratic downgrades for Turkey. 

Under the state of emergency, a very important referendum that is equally as important was held, drastically changing Turkey’s governance system from a parliamentary to executive presidency system. Plus, the upcoming twin elections for the president and parliament will also take place under emergency rule conditions. Although to be lifted soon, this period under the state of emergency will go down in history books as another undemocratic era in Turkey.

The reasons behind Erdoğan’s pledge could be as follows: First, it is about the fact that the opposition has been effectively attacking the AKP for abandoning democratic agenda. It should be noted that Erdoğan’s move comes only days after CHP leader Kılıçdaroğlu and İYİ (Good) Party leader Meral Akşener announced to work together on a road map to reinstall the parliamentary system under renewed democratic conditions. Many in Ankara expect Erdoğan to announce more about the way he will rule Turkey if he wins the polls, and this will mainly address concerns of those who eye more democracy in the country.

The second is about the economy. The alarming state of the economy with the constant plunging of the Turkish Lira against foreign currencies has pushed Erdoğan to take steps backward over his long-standing opposition to increase interest rates. His silence on the interventions of the Central Bank and about general economic conditions aims to not create more turbulence until the election day. His message on the state of emergency also addresses financial circles and global investors who have long been complaining about the lack of predictability.

The third is a message to the EU whose prominent members have made clear Brussels will not take any step for Turkey until the state of emergency is lifted, including visa liberalization and upgrading the Customs Union. If re-elected, Erdoğan should sure hope to open a new chapter in ties with Brussels, but Turkey obviously needs to do more for a genuine re-start.

Lifting the state of emergency will surely be a positive move towards reinstating democratic order in Turkey, but that will not be enough. It needs to be accompanied with a series of immediate moves for securing the rule of law and the use of fundamental freedoms. After all, lifting the state of emergency should not merely be an election promise.