Reinstating capital punishment

Reinstating capital punishment

It was a great accomplishment for Turkey to erase the death penalty altogether from its penal code through a process that started as early as 1984.

After the end of the traumatic 1980-1983 period of military rule, during which the “should we not hang them and feed them?” mentality was in use, the Turkish Parliament started a moratorium and refused to approve any death penalties. Eventually in 2002 this country succeeded in abrogating the death penalty except in times of war and those convicted of terror. At the time, separatist leader Abdullah Öcalan was on death row for his responsibility in the deaths of tens of thousands of Turkish nationals in terrorism-related violence.

It was, of course, difficult to save Öcalan’s head even under European duress or pledges made to the Americans when they handed over the chieftain on a golden platter to Turkey in 1999. Yet it was the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government that saved Öcalan from the gallows when in 2006 it abrogated the death penalty from Turkish punishment system altogether. Yes, all through the past decade it was one of the AKP’s fundamental accusations against the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) that Öcalan was saved from gallows when the nationalist party was a member of the Bülent Ecevit-led three-way coalition government. But it was the AKP that saved Öcalan in 2006. Without criticism, it was a move in the right direction.

Now, the prime minister, who preferred to pay a visit to Brunei rather than attend Atatürk commemoration events in Turkey (thus becoming the first-ever Turkish premier to evade these events), is talking about reinstating the death penalty in some form. What the premier thinks on the issue was initially incomprehensible, and it was as if he wanted to reintroduce the penalty in full. Eventually, it became clear that he believed capital punishment might be reintroduced for terrorism-related crimes.
Unfortunately, in a referendum, the majority of Turks might say “yes” to such a “reform” due to once-again intensifying terrorism trauma. Probably staff of the premier – following the mood of the nation through frequent opinion polls – advised him that a pro-death penalty stance might help his presidential aspirations. Particularly if it is considered that the premier’s death penalty “reform” suggestion coincided with his “Turkish-style presidential system” ideas. It won’t be an exaggeration to assume there is a strong correlation between the two issues.

Populism is apparently the fundamental menace of democracies – the system of “government of the people, by the people, and for the people,” as described by Abraham Lincoln. Is there validity indeed in the famous phrase, “Every nation has the government it deserves” (Toute nation a le gouvernement qu’elle mérite) by French philosopher Joseph de Maistre?