Erdoğan’s sense of democracy and justice

Erdoğan’s sense of democracy and justice

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is clearly not interested in letting the debate about turning Turkey into a presidential system rest. He believes that such a system – with him at the helm, of course – will, in his words, “make Turkey soar.” 

He does not underline democracy, though, anywhere in this debate. He simply says that what is important for the system he envisions is that “it dispense justice,” and “not have a structure that disturbs the people.”

These are very vague terms. To start with, “Whose justice is he talking about?” If it is the vindictive understanding of justice he has displayed so far – by effectively ordering the judiciary to hound journalists and his political rivals, for example – this is not “justice” in the universal sense. 

There is also the question of whether he is referring to an understanding of justice based on a secular worldview or on an Islamic one. Given his Islamist background and his statements to date, one would be forgiven for thinking that if he had his way, he would opt for as much “Islamic justice” as he can enforce.

It is also not clear what he means when referring to a system “based on a structure that does not disturb the people.” Erdoğan talked about “the people having made its choice” after he was elected president in 2014. But this is the wrong usage of “the people” in a debate about the system of government.  

The way he puts it one would think everyone voted for him. That is obviously not the case given that nearly half the population did not. This matter becomes even more crucial if a bill to transform Turkey into a presidential system is submitted to a referendum. 

Assuming that 50 percent supported this, it still leaves half the population opposed to it. This is hardly a healthy situation for a true democracy. It will also divide the country even more than it is today, pitting supporters of the presidential and parliamentary systems against each other.

Another concept that Erdogan never mentions when talking about a presidential system is the “separation of powers” and the “checks and balances” that are central to any true democracy, whether it is a parliamentary or a presidential system. 

When all their verbiage is cast aside, it is obvious what Erdoğan and his supporters ultimately want. They hanker for a system where “the leader” enjoys  a free hand as he imposes his ideological outlook on the whole of society by force of law, regardless of whether these laws dispense justice in the universal sense or not.

This is the threat Turkey will face if Erdoğan has his way. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu makes feeble remarks occasionally about the importance of the separation of powers, and the need for checks and balances, but these bear no force given Erdoğan’s strong shadow over the Justice and Development Party (AKP).

This is why the opposition, the free media, and all the other institutions that help constitute a genuine democracy – rather than the counterfeit one we have under the AKP – have to oppose this attempt at establishing a “ballot box dictatorship,” by enlightening “the people” about what they are really faced with.

Otherwise, the question is not whether Turkey has this or that system of democracy. As long as the system is based on the separation of powers, and on real justice which is dispensed by a free judiciary, the rest is academic. 

That, however, is not the system Erdoğan dreams of.