A rare political debate
It was a great evening because on my flight from northern Cyprus to Ankara, I managed to watch a portion of the first-ever debate in the last 17 years between two senior politicians before a key election. Examining the recorded debate, it was easy to conclude that such events can easily be organized in Turkey if there is political will and courageous-enough politicians to face their adversaries on equal footing in front of cameras.
The debate between Ekrem İmamoğlu - the winner of the March mayoral elections in Istanbul but removed from office by a Higher Electoral Board (YSK) decision - and Binali Yıldırım, a former parliament speaker and prime minister, was a great event that confined most people in front of TV sets. Not only was it the first of its kind in the past 17 years of AKP governance of the country but it was managed well by Fox TV journalist İsmail Küçükkaya. The two mayoral hopefuls were indeed careful enough to pass on their messages but to respect the rules set by the moderator. Occasionally, Yıldırım, probably because of the stress of the situation, made some not so appropriate accusations – such as accusing his opponent of telling lies – but the overall performance of the two politicians was indeed much higher than anticipations.
What might be the impact of the debate on the voting preferences of the Istanbulites? It appeared İmamoğlu was far more efficient in passing on his messages while Yıldırım was constantly on the defense, often trying to dump on others any responsibility of anything wrong – for example, pretending he was totally uninvolved in the awful performance of the Anatolian News Agency (AA) on Election Night or calls by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its leader President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to the YSK to annul the election and call for a rerun. Yet, the section on the March 31 elections and how the mayoral election of İmamoğlu was withdrawn by the electoral board with a not-so-convincing reason was just a repetition of the old arguments, thus just a waste of precious time. For example, perhaps more time should have been allocated to the discussions over the irregularities reported in the Court of Accounts report – an unfortunate situation. Yıldırım tried to deny the existence of the report, let alone the irregularity charges.
In any case, it was a lively show, and even if people might stick to their electoral choice, the debate helped people learn intriguing details of the electoral race from the mouth of two candidates. Many journalists who were unhappy they were not chosen for the prestigious moderator role were critical of Küçükkaya’s performance. Perhaps I would say that even though in some parts of the debate, I most likely would have acted differently, the overall performance of Küçükkaya was very successful. Such a duty required impartiality, and he was impartial. Furthermore, he might have neglected to go into details of some issues, particularly the allegations of FETÖ connections. Still, the debate was a rare occasion when a journalist asked daring questions to two politicians without fearing he might pay a heavy price.
Journalists must do journalism, and the foremost requirement of good reporting is to ask questions and explore reality. Since when do journalists no longer ask direct and uncensored questions to political figures? This must be a very interesting topic for PhD research and thesis.