Erdoğan casts shadow over fair elections in Turkey

Erdoğan casts shadow over fair elections in Turkey

The record may have been broken on May 1 when most of the national TV channels did very little other than broadcast live speeches from President Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu. But there is no guarantee that it may not be broken again during the course of parliamentary elections on June 7.

Erdoğan delivered public speeches in two and Davutoğlu three places that Friday. The timing of the speeches were so perfect that one was starting as the other one was about to finish. 

The TV stations who are nicknamed “the pool media,” a reference to the financial “pool” formed by owners of construction companies that have won lucrative government tenders, were shifting from Davutoğlu to Erdoğan and vice versa.

The state-run TRT was doing that, too; after all one of them is the president and the other is the PM. The fact that very little if any place remains for the other parties – which is actually in the TRT law – is not something particularly observed these days.

But other news channels, the mainstream ones, have been doing the same for two main reasons. The first is only a justification of the second; one is the president, the other is the PM. The second reason is that they do not dare to ignore the speeches if they do not want to be subject to pressing telephone calls from their press offices or advisers, given fines by the TV regulatory body RTÜK because of otherwise ignorable details, or be subjected to financial pressure from inspectors.

And that doesn’t stop in the evening hours. The news bulletins are full of what the president and the PM said during the day. The fact that their words, most of the time, have almost no news value and that both are repeating the same lines over and over again doesn’t change the situation. 

This is creating an almost monolithic media atmosphere in Turkey where the majority of people are getting news from TV, not newspapers and websites.

It may be natural for Davutoğlu who is also the chairman of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) to hit out at the opposition parties; after all, he is entering the elections.

But more than Davutoğlu, it is Erdoğan, who is supposed to be non-partisan according to the Constitution, who is slamming the election promises of the opposition parties, while also mocking and humiliating them.
Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the chairman of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), answered the question of a reporter about Erdoğan acting as a part of the AK Parti’s election campaign with another question: “Why don’t you ask him? He is the one who took the oath in the parliament to serve as a non-partisan [head of state]. I feel sorry that you are asking such questions to me.”

Selahattin Demirtaş, the co-chairman of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which is focused on the Kurdish issue, has repeatedly criticized Erdoğan for abusing the state budget for party purposes; he is using the presidential palace to address village headmen, shop keepers and workers and using the presidential plane, helicopters, buses and limousines wherever he goes. The justification for his trips are the official openings of various facilities; it is not a problem that some of them have already been opened by himself.

As a result, the election campaign of the AK Parti is effectively being conducted by both the PM and the president from two parallel channels. The PM’s could be considered normal, except for the claims of using the government budget for party affairs. But the president’s involvement in party politics and during an election has started to cast a shadow over the fairness of the elections. Tarhan Erdem, a well-respected political commentator, says this is a violation of Article 67 of the Constitution on elections.

It is clear that Erdoğan wants to achieve his goal of being a super-president through a constitutional change following an election victory of the AK Parti at all costs. And with polls failing to guarantee such a victory, Erdoğan could take more risky steps, increasing the worries about fair elections.