A fair referendum under state of emergency

A fair referendum under state of emergency

When the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the government came up with the idea of a swift constitutional change to give more power (or all the power) to the president in the wake of the July 15 failed coup, they talked about the problems of holding a referendum under a state of emergency and said that it would not be an option. 

But as the process is continuing in parliament amid stiff opposition, and with polls suggesting that the ayes and nays for the offer are neck and neck, it seems like a possible referendum will be held with the state of emergency sword swinging above our heads. 

On Nov. 28, Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said his government would not permit any situation in which people could argue that “a referendum took place under a state of emergency,” suggesting that emergency rule, which was imposed after the July 15 coup attempt, would be lifted before a potential vote.

However, Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş, the government’s spokesperson, is not on the same page as Yıldırım one month on.

“The state of emergency will remain in effect as long as needed,” Kurtulmuş said Dec. 27 after the year’s last cabinet meeting.

“It is our desire that the state of emergency, while going into a process of referendum, is lifted if the political conditions permit. As of today, we have no such decision,” he added.

France is also heading to a presidential election, and a state of emergency is in place. That’s the reason the ruling party members and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan often give it as an example.

“Does anybody in the world ask France, ‘Why did you declare a state of emergency for a year?’ Some of my minister friends ask if it should be over. I tell them to be patient; maybe 12 months will not be enough,” Erdoğan said Sept. 29 when the state of emergency was extended for another three months until Jan. 29, 2017.

But the reality is France did not shut down hundreds of media outlets under the state of emergency. It did not seize companies worth billions of dollars. Twelve lawmakers, including the co-chairs, of the third-biggest party in French parliament have not been arrested. More than 150 French journalists are not currently in jail, and French journalists do not wake up almost every morning to fresh detentions of their colleagues. No Frenchman is in jail for insulting President François Hollande, since “offending the head of state” has not been a criminal offense since 2013.

In Turkey, the public support sought by the ruling party in the fight against coup plotters and terror groups has evolved into a demand for unquestioning, unconditional backing for AKP policies and Erdoğan. Those who dare to voice the slightest opposition are labeled “traitors” and “enemies of the national will” and, most recently, “tools of the West which wants to stop Turkey’s rise.” An AKP lawmaker even listed the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) as a terrorist organization in his column for a pro-government daily.

But even AKP supporters are sometimes confused about what is an act of “treason.” Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş, who is currently under arrest pending trial on terrorism charges, was declared a “Russian spy” and traitor by the pro-government media when he visited Moscow in December 2015, a month after Turkey downed a Russian jet.  Russia at the time was the “enemy trying to create a Kurdish state in northern Syria” and AKP circles urged rallies in front of the Russian embassy and consulates “to condemn murderer Russia.”

Erdoğan and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, came together eight months later in a meeting hailed by the very same pro-government media as “the meeting that scared the West.” 

When it comes to the bid to bring in executive presidency, the situation is no different. Those who oppose the idea have already been labeled “traitors” by many pro-government pundits because “they want to complete the job the coup plotters failed to do.” With some prosecutors launching investigations based on accusations made in newspaper columns, “opposing the executive presidential system” could soon become our newest criminal offense.

The most famous slogan used by nationalists in Turkey, especially in the 1990s, was “love it or leave it,” telling those who disagree with them to leave the country. The AKP’s supporters seem to have been inspired by this slogan, and do not hesitate to tell anyone they believe is a traitor to “respect the national will or go to one of those countries who back traitors.”

In the last couple of years, thousands of young, talented “traitors” have taken up their offer and moved abroad, and many others are preparing their documents.