The last exit before dictatorship

The last exit before dictatorship

The expectation is that this Sunday there will be a very high turnout of Turks casting their votes in parliamentary elections, which may either usher Turkey’s governance system toward an elected dictatorship or save the fragile democracy badly hurt by the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) 13-year-old majoritarian understanding.

For some reason every single national vote in Turkey – be it mayoral, parliamentary, presidential, or a referendum on a constitutional amendments package – has been very important. Of course, such votes in this country of over 77 million ought to be important. But this election, over and above all the previous ones, will be of existential importance; in a sense, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his political Islam clan have been correct when they claim that Turkey is at the threshold of a second “war of liberation.”

Turkey’s War of Liberation was a heroic one. How the nation waged the war with very limited resources, with an under-armed and undermanned force but with a national mobilization spirit is a legend. What kind of second “war of liberation” might the country be waging now? Is it, as claimed by Erdoğan and his political clan, a war to achieve recourse to the pre-republic imperial era? Or is it one to prevent the retardation to neo-imperial hallucinations and save the republican heritage?

The recent controversy on the reporting of the National Intelligence Agency (MİT) lorries, veiled by a “state secret” cover clamped down by the government, is a vivid example of the state of today’s Turkey. Journalists do not do their profession to please the government of any country. People can spend days discussing whether the ethics of the profession, nationalist feelings or political allegiances should come before journalism. But any sober mind must agree that if a journalist writes about a major scandal and documents his claims with photographs they a president should not then openly vow in front of cameras to cut that journalist down to size.

Such a journalist must be awarded the highest journalistic prize of that country for his excellence in reporting something awful but so strongly veiled by the government. How on earth can the mentality in government target that journalist and how can a prosecutor of that country demand two enforced life sentences against that journalist?

There are plenty of anomalies in this “advanced democracy” of the “New Turkey” of Erdoğan’s governance.

The domestication of media bosses through hefty tax fines, the venomous statements against all parts of society critical of the government, the consolidation of polarization, and the thickening climate of fear have all become characteristics of the “advanced democracy” of Erdoğan’s “Turkish-style presidency.” What kind of presidential system Erdoğan is aspiring to? One with absolute power but with no checks and balances. But when critics say the president aspires to become an elected dictator, Erdoğan gets angry.

Is there anything wrong in Erdoğan being angry at someone or some issue? Not at all. The problem is that when he gets angry at someone - on any issue - that person or institution is barred from all public contact or public tenders (that is if an officious prosecutor hasn’t already asked for a life sentence against them). Is it sane, for God’s sake, for a journalist to face over 100 years in jail just because what he wrote was not appreciated by the top executive of the country? Is it sane for a broadcasting group head to sit in jail for months because the synopsis of a soap opera that is no longer on air allegedly contained incitement to crime? Can judges be dismissed and prosecuted just because they made decisions that the political authority did not like? Remember the Ergenekon and the Sledgehammer cases: Lives devastated and acquittals that came years later. Does Turkey deserve such obsessive governance, which if further consolidated on Sunday might take the dimension of an elected dictatorship?

Going to the voting booths on Sunday, Turkish voters must remember all these things, as well as the aspiration to become part of the European club of democracies. They must spend few moments deciding what kind of Turkey they want to see.

Turkey deserves a functioning democracy aligned with the club of democracies in Europe. Sunday’s vote, in a way, is the last exit for Turks before dictatorship.