Turkey sets an example for democracy but gov’t doesn’t see it

Turkey sets an example for democracy but gov’t doesn’t see it

The “justice march” from Ankara to Istanbul, started on June 15 by the social democratic main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, left its sixth day behind on June 20. There are rising calls on Kılıçdaroğlu to end it from President Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti).

Yesterday, on June 20, Kılıçdaroğlu convened his party’s weekly parliamentary group meeting - not in the parliament but near the Kızılcahamam town in the outskirts of Ankara province. He and his followers still have 330 km to walk in order to complete the 450 km distance between Ankara and Istanbul.

His followers are not exclusively CHP members. For example, one founder of the AK Parti, Fatma Bostan Ünsal - who was expelled from the university where she was working after the foiled July 15, 2016 coup attempt - has taken part in the march for one day, carrying a placard with ”justice” written on it. TV news footage has also shown some supporters of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), with their party flags hung on their balconies, applauding Kılıçdaroğlu in one town he passed through. No doubt that would draw a strong objection from MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli, who supports the government’s line against the march.

President Erdoğan has said the march is unconstitutional and Kılıçdaroğlu should accept the court ruling that sentenced CHP deputy Enis Berberoğlu to 25 years in jail. Berberoğlu is now in an Istanbul jail (which is why the march is heading toward Istanbul) on charges of providing video material to daily Cumhuriyet in 2015 about a gendarmerie search of Turkish intelligence trucks allegedly carrying military material for rebels in Syria in 2014.

Erdoğan has also said Kılıçdaroğlu’s is “no different” from the attempted military coup in 2016 against him and his government, calling on the CHP head to stop it. The president said the government is permitting the march out of its blessing, while noting that any NGOs who support the march could well also find themselves summoned by the courts.

Kılıçdaroğlu said on June 20 that they would keep walking not thanks to Erdoğan’s permission, but because it is their constitutional right. Stressing that the march is totally peaceful and has no harm to anybody, he says he is walking for “justice and democracy for all 80 million Turkish people.”

Turkey has never before seen such a march. Street actions in Turkey usually end in violence, with disproportionate police reactions resulting in deaths, injuries and arrests.

Perhaps one way to look at what is happening is to see it as a perfect example of democratic maturity, with an opposition party mobilizing the masses in a pacifistic way – even evoking Gandhi - for a simple political demand. The march is being watched by millions in Turkey from a distance and is also being observed by almost all embassies and international institutions in Turkey. 

So it would actually be possible for Erdoğan to praise the march as an example of the strength of Turkish democracy, showing that when protesters behave peacefully there is no threat from the authorities against them. Such a line could even counter the strong criticism of him for being authoritarian. 

Unfortunately, the government cannot see that the march actually displays an example of democracy in the country, and instead it is trying to suppress it.