What will Turkish leaders say at the G20 Summit?
It’s no secret that Sunday’s election results were surprising to everyone, including Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and senior Justice and Development Party (AKP) officials. Four years after the 2011 election, in which the ruling party under Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s leadership garnered 49.7 percent of votes, the AKP was able to repeat this success and secured a comfortable majority at parliament.
That is why almost all pro-government newspapers’ front pages asked “Where were we?” on the day after the vote: The AKP government will continue from where it left off before the June 7 election. Speaking to some of our colleagues right after the results were announced, Prime Minister Davutoğlu said he has the energy to work three-days nonstop, explaining how he motivated himself for victory in his second election as AKP leader.
A heavy agenda awaits the government, which is expected to be formed in the coming weeks, probably by late November. However, the first preoccupation of both President Erdoğan and Prime Minister Davutoğlu will be hosting the G-20 Summit in Antalya on Nov. 15 and 16. (The main host will certainly be Erdoğan, but Davutoğlu will also be attending the opening and closing sessions.) This will be the first - and big - international platform in which Erdoğan and Davutoğlu will appear together, delivering their messages to world leaders.
Although the program is not fixed yet, one should expect them to tell world leaders about their short and medium-term economic visions and speak about ongoing “mega-projects.” Erdoğan and Davutoğlu will certainly be enjoying the comfort of securing another four-year mandate in their multilateral and bilateral talks.
But this summit is also important for other reasons. Although the G20 is an economic organization, it should be understood that preserving and promoting fundamental rights and freedoms, as well as democratization, are the highest of values and principles.
That’s why no one should be surprised if some world leaders choose to directly or indirectly talk about the need to protect freedom of expression and freedom of the press during their opening statements or press conferences.
There is already enough evidence to predict that they will do so. U.S. State Department Spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau did not hesitate to urge the Turkish government to “uphold universal democratic values” in her statement about the results of the Nov. 1 election.
“The United States looks forward to working with the newly-elected parliament and with the future government,” Trudeau said, adding that “Media outlets and individual journalists critical of the government were subject to pressure and intimidation during the campaign, seemingly in a manner calculated to weaken political opposition … We urge the Turkish authorities to ensure their actions uphold the universal democratic values enshrined in Turkey’s constitution.”
European governments are seemingly more tight-lipped about their concerns on the deteriorating state of freedom of expression in Turkey for two reasons. Firstly, they do not want to cast a shadow over ongoing talks with Ankara for resolving the refugee crisis. Secondly, they have delegated the European Commission to express any criticism, with the “progress report” on Turkey’s stalled EU accession process expected to finally be released within days.
Much of the European media has openly expressed concerns about democracy and freedoms in Turkey under the reinforced leadership of Erdoğan, who is expected to push the government to change the administrative system into a presidential one. Stories and editorials published in the Financial Times, the Guardian and others all making this point.
This picture shows that the AKP’s election victory and parliamentary majority does not change the perspective abroad. In fact, it even deepens concerns over the use of fundamental rights and freedoms. This should be taken on board by Davutoğlu’s next government, which should reverse its policies aimed at silencing opposition voices both in the media and in civil society.
That’s why Erdoğan and Davutoğlu should see the G20 Summit as an important venue to convince world leaders that the freedoms and rights of every citizen in Turkey will be protected and violations will not be repeated.