The culture of impunity and reelections

The culture of impunity and reelections

Last week a deputy chief of police in Istanbul killed a motorcycle rider following a road-rage incident.

“Celal Yılmaz, 51, entered a quarrel with motorcycle rider Ahmet Sülüsoğlu, 32, while he was heading home with his wife in the Halkalı district after Sülüsoğlu rode toward his car. The quarrel subsequently ended, and Yılmaz proceeded toward home.

“However, Sülüsoğlu reportedly pursued Yılmaz, resulting in a second quarrel between the two at around 1 a.m. in front of the couple’s lodging building. As the quarrel resumed, Sülüsoğlu pointed a gun at Yılmaz but was immediately shot dead before firing. A subsequent investigation revealed the gun to have blank cartridges.”

This is the information you can find in the website of the Hürriyet Daily News. You can also find the security footage of the moment Yılmaz killed Sülüsoğlu.

Indeed, the young man carried a gun. But looking at the footage, it will be difficult to convince the police officer, who has been trained to treat such potential dangerous behavior, endorsed the right approach. It will be difficult to convince that there was no other way to handle this case. He aimed at Sülüsoğlu’s head. Couldn’t he have shot to wound him rather than take a shot at his head, which was certain to kill him?

What preceded the incident seemed to be a contention between two drivers. It might be that the 32-year-old Ahmet Sülüsoğlu showed an extreme reaction. That he was wrong all along. That he was not acting in a rational manner. But does that justify the reaction of the deputy chief of police? Shouldn’t he be trained to address such cases? How can he shoot without fearing the legal consequences that it will lead to? Or did he think that there wouldn’t be “serious” consequences, as he is a police officer? Perhaps he was right to think so since he was released yesterday based on the argument that  there is no doubt that he will escape; an argument that many suspects cannot benefit from. Are we back to those days when the culture of impunity left the hands of police officers so free that it gained Turkey a top place with a bad human rights record as far as police treatment is concerned?
The culture of impunity can be very dangerous however, especially in politics for instance. If politicians start thinking they can enjoy a culture of impunity, they can make a huge mistake.

Turkish political life has plenty of examples of those who thought they could benefit from the culture of impunity. 

Yet Turkish voters have usually punished politicians that tried to exploit nationalist feelings, especially the warmongers. If fighting terrorism through only military measures while at the same time denying Kurds their rights was the most endorsed option by the nation, we would have seen the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), whose existence for the past decade has been solely based on the presence of the Kurdish problem, at the head of government. Yet the MHP got stuck around 15 percent, which is only natural in a country that suffers from ethnic, separatist terrorism. And let’s not also forget that the MHP’s constituencies are not limited to those who give priority to security issues. One of the few political parties to pass the threshold, the MHP is the only political party on the right wing of the political spectrum where voters dissatisfied with the Justice and Development Party (AKP) can go. The MHP seems to forget that it could not make it into parliament in 2002 and it has now become delusional about a culture of impunity as it has stabilized its votes enough to make it above the threshold.

The AKP, or rather President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, seems to have become delusional too about the culture of impunity. After all, the AKP has come out as the first party from general elections as well as local elections for the last decade. More importantly, the AKP and Erdoğan, who also won the presidential elections, have not suffered from the slow deterioration of the economy that started in 2009, the polarization that poisoned society, the foreign policies failures in the Middle East, or the Syrian refugee problem. And more importantly, the AKP and Erdoğan did not suffer from corruption allegations or claims that Turkey is sliding towards an authoritarian regime.

In the June 7 election, the AKP again came in as the first party but fell short of forming a single-party government. The electorate therefore took a warning shot, giving the message that what the AKP and Erdoğan perceived as the culture of impunity might be something delusional. 

We will see in the next election whether the electorate will repeat its warning shot or decide to take a deadly shot.