How the AKP is blinding itself

How the AKP is blinding itself

The recent disaster in the coal mines of Soma left behind 301 victims and their traumatized families. That is, for sure, enough of a tragedy. But the same incident also underlined how bitterly polarized Turkey has become, and how this polarization has blinded the government to criticism.

In a sense, perhaps nobody is more responsible for Soma other than Turkey’s traditionally low standards of work safety. Similar accidents in Turkish mines and other industries have repeatedly taken place in the past decades and little has been done to punish those who are responsible and prevent new disasters. We Turks simply lack enough care for human life, and this has been a longstanding problem.

However, when we come to specifics, there are clearly two responsible agents for Soma: First, on a legal level, the company that operated the mine, which apparently overlooked all of the safety risks for the sake of maximizing profits. The boss and the managers of the company should pay for this crime, with the heaviest sentences possible, in a criminal court.

Second, on a political level, the government is responsible. Not only because the accident took place under their rule, but because they dismissed prior warnings about the lack of safety in Turkish mines. In 2011, the Presidential State Inspection Board (DDK) prepared a report on this issue and submitted it to the prime minister, without any result. And just last month, Özgür Özel, a CHP (People’s Republican Party) deputy representing the Soma district in Parliament sent a motion for a parliamentary investigation for the Soma mines. The deputies of the ruling AKP, en bloc, rejected this move and the investigation was closed before it began.

So far, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan should have apologized for these scandals. Instead, he has proven only more defiant. When he visited Soma and was booed by masses, he responded with anger, saying, “If you boo Turkey’s prime minister, you will get slapped.” (There is controversy over whether he really followed through to a protestor.) Meanwhile, his advisor Yusuf Yerkel literally kicked a protestor, delivering a shot that made global headlines. Erdoğan neither criticized, nor dismissed him for it.

So, the question is why does Erdoğan never accept any responsibility in any wrongdoings and never, ever, apologizes for something he or his team has done?

The answer is that in government circles, there is a poisonous mix of hubris and paranoia. As Murat Yetkin, the editor-in-chief of Hürriyet Daily News, described well in his column last Saturday, May 17:  
“Erdoğan and his team believe that if they accept any fault, especially after the corruption probe opened on Dec. 17, 2013, they might lose everything they have, particularly power: Don’t acknowledge any wrongdoing by anyone related to the AK Parti, or in government activities; cover it up if you can, protect the members of your team - even if you know that what they have done is wrong - in order to maintain the status quo.”

But this is a fatal road that will only bring more trouble to the AKP, and, more importantly, Turkey itself.

The urge to condemn every criticism as an attack makes the party blind to its mistakes and puts it on a vicious cycle of more authoritarianism fed by reactions to authoritarianism. As someone who has often been a friend to the AKP folks over the past decade, let me warn them here that this is a very, very wrong path. They need to come back to their senses before it is too late.