An exercise in democracy

An exercise in democracy

The selection of Ekmelettin İhsanoğlu as the joint candidate – not the alleged roof candidate as other parties immediately declared their disapproval – of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) is a new phenomenon in Turkey. Yes in the 1970’s there were CHP coalition governments with political Islamists and in the early 1990s center-right True Path Party (DYP) shared the government with the social democrats, but this time things are far different.

Naturally this will be the first-ever popular election of the president. Unlike previous “system crises” politicians can no longer look at the military for a “salvage,” nor has the nation support for such an anti-democratic way out. Yet, it is a fact that the oppressive leadership style is advancing towards the presidency and if elected, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will not be like President Abdullah Gül, who more or less conceded to play a role of notary for the powerful premier for most of the past seven years. Even though supporters of the premier rightfully defend the choice of the people must be respected, they tend to forget that for a democracy, there is need far more than a vote. The will of the nation is important and must be respected, but the will of the nation cannot be held hostage by one person or one party just because he or it received even 75 percent of the vote. In the absence of democratic norms, institutions, respect to and supremacy of law – which is different than enacting laws serving a certain purpose – and transparency in governance plus accountability, does it matter with what percentage an election was won? The victor of such an election cannot be democracy.

Perhaps seeing the consequences still continuing today, many of us would pity the fall of Saddam Hussein. In his time, there was definitely no democracy in Iraq. He was removed through an American intervention. The country is devastated. “Free elections” were organized. A Shiite sectarian mentality came to power while the presidency was given as alms to the Kurds. Saddam’s Baath and Sunni minority were left out in the desert. Sectarian governance by the Shiite government of Nouri al-Maliki was one – definitely not the only – major factor that produced today’s march on Baghdad of the al-Qaeda-inspired “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant” (ISIL).

Americans are discussing ISIL’s advances in Iraq as a development “exposing the risks of reduced U.S. engagement in the region.” There is serious talk of military interference. In Ankara, the government – long accused at home and abroad of assisting Islamist terrorists in Syria and for years have been in systematic efforts to forge a Sunni alliance – has so far successfully resisted against adventurist intervention demands. Yet, the Turkish consulate in Mosul was occupied by ISIL and, including the consul, 80 Turkish nationals have been hostages for days. Turkey has turned on al-Maliki to protest the failure of the Baghdad government in defending the Turkish consulate. Funny, is it not? Baghdad has lost control of one third of the country. ISIL is advancing on Baghdad. Turkey is still hoping to secure the release of its people held hostage through the help of an autocracy sanctioned by flawed elections. At the roots of the problem lies, of course, the absence of democracy and hundreds of people of all sects killed mercilessly by ISIL terrorists underscore the severity of the problem.

Pro-government pundits, as well as die-hard Kemalists, are on the white-screen and in the news because İhsanoğlu’s name was spelled out as a presidential candidate for the CHP and MHP. The two parties, aware of the looming danger on Turkish democracy and people, seeing the advance of autocracy, have engaged in a joint effort. Reconciliation is a difficult, but democratic tradition. A candidate that two different parties reconciled by through his candidacy cannot be from either of the two parties. Indeed, İhsanoğlu is neither CHP, nor MHP. He has been a respected academic who headed the Islamic conference for the past 10 years with great success.

What’s in a name, if two parties can reconcile without either being represented by it alone? That is an undertaking in democracy that must be saluted for democracy taking root in this country.