Who will provide truly democratic leadership for Turkey?
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s success in the local elections, despite the anti-democratic steps he has been taking to guard his government against corruption charges, will make it more difficult for Turkey to maintain its EU perspective and all that this entails.
President Abdullah Gül has exhorted the government to return to the EU path and argues that the reforms achieved on that road will be good for Turkey, whether there is EU membership at the end of the line or not. But he is whistling in the wind.
One could, of course, also ask whether he has not contributed to Turkey’s straying from the EU path himself by signing undemocratic legislation placed in front of him by the government.
The simple fact is that the 43 percent which voted for the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Sunday’s elections do not care about the EU, its liberal values or the modernity it represents. It wants to see a Turkey based on conservative Islamic values and looks to Erdoğan as the leader that will achieve this.
When you put the increasing restrictions on the media, the government’s meddling with the legal system in ways that would not be possible in any modern European state, the banning of Twitter and YouTube, and other similar developments, it all points to one thing.
Turkey under Erdoğan is rapidly losing its European orientation and moving away from the democratic principles this orientation represents. AKP supporters who talk much about democracy, and decry the fate of Egypt’s elected former president, Mohamed Morsi, refute this of course.
But the democracy they defend has little to do with European-style democracy, just as Morsi’s policies during the brief period he was in power had nothing to do with genuine democracy, even if he was elected democratically.
Looking back though, it is also true that successive governments that came to power after the republic was founded did little to turn Turkey into a respected member of the community of democratic European states, despite their modernist pretensions.
It must not be forgotten that Turkey got its reputation as an oppressive country that does not respect human or minority rights, both of which it violated with impunity, under governments that preceded the AKP.
It has to also be remembered that the establishment which ran this country for decades prior to the AKP always considered those citizens who defended true democracy and human rights as members of a fifth column in the service of a West that was out to destroy Turkey.
In other words, the supposedly modern elements that ran Turkey for decades always mimicked Europeans superficially, but never believed in the values that go to make up contemporary Europe.
More often than not, they considered these values to be a threat to national unity and the symbols they believed in religiously for maintaining this unity.
Take the Twitter and YouTube ban, for example. We are justifiably criticizing these today as primitive backwards steps. But many who revile the AKP over these bans forget, or perhaps are not even aware, that it was the “Atatürkist Thought Association” which applied successfully to have the first YouTube ban instituted in Turkey due to uploads deemed insulting to the memory of Atatürk.
Erdoğan and his supporters at least act according to their true beliefs, even if they have to be opposed in the name of true democracy. But many of those who criticize the AKP as the reactionary force it is increasingly revealing itself to be have to first come to terms with their own democratic shortcomings before claiming to represent true modernity.
Erdoğan’s “New Turkey” is not a desirable place for true democrats, but neither was the “Old Turkey” that some still hanker after. We need a genuinely new and democratic Turkey where no one feels alienated because of the results of a ballot box and everyone believes in the rule of law no matter who is elected.
The results of the local elections have left us in even more of a quandary as to who will provide leadership for this.