Turkish pathological democracy
The nature of Turkey’s democracy is a matter for Turkish citizens to decide, whether it’s a presidential system or a strong parliamentary system. The system is not the essential piece for a country to become a democracy. To what degree fundamental freedoms are protected and the existence of the institutions and norms of democracy, headed by equality in front of the law and the supremacy of law principles, are what defines the quality of a democracy.
Apart from fair and just elections, which are also important, is the extent by which a system provides checks and balances that prevent any single individual or any single branch of government from exercising disproportionate influence and ability to rule without consent.
Everyone should respect the right and the ability of Turkish citizens to make informed choices. It’s important that everyone in society has an opportunity to make an informed decision. Is there a need for further elaboration? Under what conditions could Turkish citizens make informed decisions? Can it be possible to make informed decisions if a huge section of the media is owned directly or indirectly by the ruling political clan? Or, can such a decision be made if because of the dark veil of fear covering the country from one end to the other, a journalist feels compelled to apply self-censorship in reporting a development or expressing an opinion? However, is it not a reality that democratic governance can function if, through free and unhindered access to information, that is, through freedom of media and freedom of being informed, people are ordained with the capability of informed decisions and preferences? Definitely making informed decisions has become impossible because of curbs on the media and the dictate bombardment of a tall, bald, bold ever yelling neo-sultan.
Not only in Turkey, journalists in too many countries are unable to perform their craft and contribute to strengthening and sustaining democratic values and norms and consolidating democracy in their societies in the way that they should be able to. Definitely the U.S. or many of Turkey’s Western allies are not the best democracies, but they remain incomparable despite all their odds in view of the acute shortage of a democratic culture in this country. As President Barack Obama said in his “World Press Freedom Day” statement, “Journalists give all of us the chance to know the truth about our countries, ourselves and our governments. That makes us better; it makes us stronger; it gives a voice to the voiceless, exposes injustice and holds leaders like me accountable.”
Accountability? Can anyone imagine Turkey’s elected sole decision-maker, chief executive and executioner judge becoming accountable? Forget him, even his spouse has been provided with a generous slush fund, thanks to the fingers of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) majority in parliament ready to approve whatever the neo-sultan orders them to do. Presidents, prime ministers and ministers should serve the people, not the other way around. Servants of the nation, capice?
If, in a country where in less than three months over 170 people were detained, questioned and had legal cases brought against many of them on the grounds they insulted the president or his family members in less than three months, can anyone say this country has no freedom of expression problem?
When governments anywhere are selective in terms of which publications and which points of view have access to official government events, government spokespeople and the perspective of the government, there ought to be a democracy problem. Journalists were selectively barred from parliament. Some journalists were selectively barred from a meeting of the Turkish Union of Chambers. At a meeting of a private telecommunications company where the spouse of the president was attending, a journalist was kicked out… This list can be expanded by several more pages, as every day journalists from some “disliked” media outlets are barred under the orders of the president, the prime minister or other ministers.
All these constitute a serious anomaly for Turkey if it continues professing to be a democracy…
* These were some notes this writer penned down during a discussion with American Ambassador John Bass at an event hosted by the Diplomatic Correspondents Association.