Referendum under emergency decrees

Referendum under emergency decrees

Years ago many journalists, intellectuals and academics faced prosecution for daring to criticize a constitutional text written under the dictate of the five ruling generals that was submitted to a national referendum.

 The text at hand was a very crooked one. Written with an understanding that the head of the five generals’ ruling junta would stay as president forever, the text gave the presidency such vast powers that it indeed contradicted the dictum of the separation of powers in parliamentary democratic governance.

Criticizing the draft constitution was prohibited. There was full press freedom as long as it was used to praise, and even better, flatter the junta and glorify its undertakings. Those were the years when just for the sake of establishing equality between the left and right, if a leftist was hanged, the generals also ordered the hanging of a rightist. 

“Are going to feed the criminals instead of hanging them?” the top general told people in defending the court-ordered official murders at the time. Today, there is no death penalty, though the idea of reviving the horrible, inhumane practice is often visited by the all-powerful, modern-day self-declared democrats.

Does anyone have the right to oppose the constitutional amendment package which, if approved, will open the way to what many fear is the era of elected, one-man rule in Turkey? Indeed. Does a journalist have the right to publicly reveal the color of his vote? If the vote of the journalist is in line with the expectations of the power dens, why not?

Since its adoption in a referendum with over 92 percent popular support in 1982, an entire nation has managed to squeeze themselves into that remaining 8 percent “no” vote section. This is what is called “relativity” in mathematics. Ninety-two percent in 1982 is smaller than 8 percent in 2017. Or, do people think we are foolish enough to accept that they all voted “no” in the 1982 referendum? I bet that whatever the outcome of the April 16 vote, in less than a decade, at least 95 percent of Turks will come up with the claim that they all voted “no.” Why? Because if this package is approved in the referendum and presidential governance comes to Turkey, the separation of powers will be abandoned and the president will be given the right to become the leader of the ruling political party, the chief prosecutor, top judge, top police officer, commander in chief… you name the rest. At that time, the people will all realize what a super president indeed is. At that point, if they still have the chance to raise their voice, almost the entire Turkish nation at that point will start falling over each other to prove that they were in the “no” camp…

Ever since the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power, the Radio and Television High Board (RTÜK) and Supreme Electoral Board (YSK) have imposed very serious fines on allegiant media channels during elections on the grounds that they infringed on the principle of “equality” in their broadcasts in favor of the ruling party. Particularly in the latest 2015 polls, there was a very serious battle between the YSK and the pro-government channels that insisted on allocating unjustly long periods to AKP campaigning but very little time to the opposition parties. Now, with an emergency law degree the government has issued, the YSK cannot penalize any such impartial reporting or sheer use of TV screens for the campaigning of the president, government or “yes” vote. All the YSK managed to do was issue a circular at the start of the official election period this week asking channels, newspapers and news magazines not to forget the principle of equality in their broadcasts during this period. This is the first time since the YSK, one of the country’s highest authorities, was created that it has lost its power to enforce its decisions on the media. This development also has some very positive aspects as well because often the use of such powers by public institutions has resulted in oppressing the opposition. 

But in the latest example, the entity that issued the degree wanted the national will to be shaped only with its propaganda as all other opponents are hushed up…

One main rule of the 1980 coup period was the ban on writing or talking against the degrees or undertakings of the military junta. One basic characteristic of Turkey in 2017 is that emergency rule decrees cannot be criticized. Opponents are either sent to prison, or hushed up on screens or in newspaper pages.