‘Today’s authoritarian rulers wolves disguised in democratic sheep’s clothing’
ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily NewsToday’s authoritarian rulers come across as wolves disguised in democratic sheep’s clothing as they learn to play by the rules of democracy, according to a scholar at Lewis and Clark Law School.
Modern authoritarian rulers use democracy as a mechanism to create a fog which makes it difficult for the international community to detect and eliminate their anti-democratic practices, said Ozan Varol.
Varol was speaking at a conference to commemorate Turan Güneş, one of Turkey’s most prominent statesmen who died in 1982. While famous for being Turkey’s foreign minister during Turkey’s intervention in Cyprus in 1974, he is also a prominent lawyer. Organized by Istanbul’s Koç University, the conference is expected to be the first set of discussions as part of a series of talks on constitutional law.
Modern-day authoritarianism has undergone a metamorphosis, said Varol, adding that authoritarian rulers adopted the same constitutional laws and legal institutions yet they either ignore them or use them to conceal their repressive ways.
He said authoritarian rulers also tended to tolerate some adverse decisions, citing Egypt’s constitutional court during Hosni Mubarak’s rule as an example, saying the court granted a considerable amount of certain individual rights but also refrained from intervening in cases that involved civilians being tried in military courts.
Varol also said modern-day rulers introduced democratic reforms and strategically utilized democratic rhetoric, which assists in veiling the reality on the ground. While recalling Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s rhetoric on making Turkey “an advanced democracy,” he also mentioned regressive steps that were taken, effectively resulting in “democratic backpedalling.”
Modern-day authoritarian leaders permit a certain degree of criticism, Varol said, citing Azerbaijan, where an environment of opposition parties, a vibrant press and newly emerging NGOs has been established. However, while this “pretty” picture appeases the critics among the international community, it keeps domestic realities safely under wraps.
Authoritarian rulers also employ legal methods against dissidents such as using non-political crimes to prosecute opponents, as has occurred in Russia, where opposition figure Mikhail Khodorkovsky was prosecuted for tax evasion and embezzlement.
Meanwhile on a separate panel, Professor Bertil Emrah Oder discussed the challenges currently being experienced in the course of rewriting the Turkish Constitution in Parliament.
In the absence of devices to ensure transparency, as well as one to ensure civilian input, Turkey is facing a Constitution being devised strictly by political elites, she said.
“On the one hand political parties are all talking about the will of nation; yet the process is very ‘elite-centric,’” she said, pointing to the Constitutional Conciliation Commission, which is tasked with rewriting the Constitution.
Legislators in Turkey should wear a “veil of ignorance” during their efforts in rewriting the Constitution, said Oder, using the academic term in the sense that legislators should ignore the daily needs of their political parties and act solely to secure a fair and one-size-fits-all answer to the genuine needs of society. Under the current circumstances, however, political parties are exploiting this process as a political strategy to score points against each other, said Oder, adding that legislators in Turkey had yet to adopt or internalize an inner ethic to facilitate the wearing of the “veil of ignorance.”
Oder also said that while all parties present in Parliament were represented on an equal footing in the Constitutional Conciliation Commission by three parliamentarians from each party, the ruling party still prevailed over the commission’s works as it has the power to determine the political agenda of the country via the commission’s agenda.