Erdoğan’s manifesto is short of genuine democratic promises
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, chair of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), was the first presidential nominee to reveal his election manifesto through a big event in Istanbul on May 6. The manifesto will later be accompanied by an “election bulletin” to be outlined by the AKP in the coming weeks, in which concrete election promises will be conveyed.
The manifesto that Erdoğan outlined had two main parts: The first praised the first 16 years of AKP governance while the second described the vision he will build his rule on if elected the country’s executive president on June 24. Erdoğan said his government had succeeded in achieving the impossible in what he called a “resurrection period,” overcoming significant resistance and citing achievements in the fields of democracy, the economy, foreign and security policy.
According to the manifesto, Turkey is becoming a global player thanks to its political, military and economic strength, which allows it to establish alliances with countries east, west, north and south. Erdoğan stressed that Turkey’s cross-border anti-terror fight will continue, particularly in Syria and Iraq, against “the plans of some countries to create a terror corridor” on the country’s southern borders. The manifesto also states that Turkey’s aspirations to join the EU as a full member have not changed, while not explaining how the next government is hoping to revive stalled negotiations with Brussels.
It could be argued that Erdoğan’s lengthy speech was not too different from the addresses he delivers daily, highlighting the basics of his policies. However, its references to democracy, freedoms, and the rule of law were all underlined by the media.
“We are in favor of democracy, freedom and the free use of rights, as was the case yesterday and as will be the case tomorrow,” Erdoğan said. “We are at the same time strong and independent. We don’t see these as alternatives to each other but rather as complementary to each other. We want a fully independent, democratic and prosperous Turkey under the people’s sovereignty.” This line could perhaps be interpreted as meaning that Turkey will continue to implement a sui generis democratic system that does not accept the well-established set of universal values when it comes to human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Erdoğan’s manifesto also emphasized the “unity of the country and its people,” while referring to “respect” for all different opinions. “None of us can be free if one of us is not. None of us can be peaceful if one of us is not. None of us can feel secure for the future if one of us cannot,” it stated. The president also claimed that the judicial system will be strengthened in Turkey and all citizens will benefit from a strong justice system based on the rule of law.
All these promises are of course very positive. But there is an obvious need for a more concrete set of promises on democratization and human rights, given the fact that these have been consistently deteriorating in recent years.
Turkey’s elections slated for June 24 will take place under the ongoing state of emergency and Erdoğan’s manifesto did not mention how long emergency rule will be in place. Media freedom and freedom of expression are almost suspended in the country; dissident politicians, academics, journalists and prominent intellectuals have been imprisoned on vague “terror” charges, but the presidential manifesto preferred to ignore this. It also completely disregarded measures to address one of Turkey’s most important lingering problems, the Kurdish question.
In light of all this, it is hard to argue that Erdoğan’s manifesto promises drastic improvements on democracy and human rights in Turkey, even after the June 24 polls.