How President Erdogan has failed Turkish democracy

Mohammad Behzad Fatmi
Mohammad Behzad FatmiJun 03, 2015 | 15:40

How President Erdogan has failed Turkish democracy

The general election in Turkey is scheduled to be held on June 7. The kind of politics the country is witnessing is not only substandard but also unconstitutional and undemocratic. The person sitting on the constitutionally impartial post as the president of the republic is actively campaigning in favour of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), the offices and members of the opposition parties - especially the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) - are being violently attacked, the state media is being used by the ruling AKP as its mouthpiece, dissenting voices are being harshly stifled and critics of the government are labelled as traitors.


Biased president

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a co-founder of the ruling AKP and had led the party's government for more than a decade as the prime minister until last year. He was elected the head of the state which is constitutionally an apolitical post. The president is supposed to strictly adhere to the principle of impartiality and maintain equal distance from all political parties. President Erdogan, however, has never shown respect to this principle and is still openly sponsoring the AKP. He has been frequently demanding 400 seats in parliament for a party in this general election so that the constitution of the country could be amended to bring a strong "Turkish-styled" presidential system. It must be noted that only the ruling AKP has promised to make the necessary constitutional changes in this regard in its election manifesto. All the opposition parties strongly disagree with the idea of switching from parliamentary democracy to a presidential system.

In one of the recent public rallies while reiterating his demand of 400 seats, Erdogan said, "I am at an equal distance from all political parties but there is a party in my heart, which is a different thing." During the ongoing heated election campaign, he has also shared stage with the current Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu for at least a couple of times till now, and both of them made political speeches from there.


In an article published in Radikal daily on May 28, a veteran Turkish journalist Tarhan Erdem claimed that President Erdogan has delivered more 150 speeches between the first week of December 2014 and May 27, 2015 in which he demanded votes for the ruling AKP and criticised the opposition parties.

Attacks on political parties

This election is extremely crucial for Turkey's Kurdish community for two reasons: first, because the result will decide the fate of the ongoing peace negotiations between the government and the militants of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and second, because the pro-Kurdish HDP is running for the first time as a party to secure seats in the parliament.

The Turkish constitution requires a party to gain at least 10 per cent of nationwide votes to be represented in the parliament. Until last election the HDP and its predecessor party's members fought independently and later on joined hands in the parliament as a strategy to circumvent the election threshold. If the HDP does not cross the benchmark the Kurdish community will feel unrepresented in the parliament, thus risking the peace negotiations as well.

However, during the past few years of political turmoil, if there is a party that seems to be emerging strongly, it is the HDP. Their prospect of crossing the threshold is stronger than ever and perhaps therefore the number of targeted attacks on them is also higher than ever. Reports suggest that HDP has faced more than 70 attacks in the last five months. On May 18, in one of the most serious attacks, the offices of HDP in two southern provinces of the country were simultaneously hit by bomb blasts. Six people were injured in those attacks.


On May 26, a female candidate from the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) was also wounded by gun shot in southern province of Adana. Apart from these violent attacks, both the president and the prime minister have made provocative allegations against the opposition parties. They have accused the opposition of forming a "gang" and plotting with "foreign powers" against the AKP. The rhetoric has effectively raised political tension in the country and the opposition parties argue that such vitriolic statements by senior authorities promote violence against them.

President Erdogan is very active on social media, however, allegations of influencing Turkish media have been hurled at him. 

Exploitation of state media by AKP

A report prepared by Suleyman Demirkan, a member of Turkey's top television and radio watchdog (RTUK), concluded that national television channels broadcast 44 hours of live speeches of President Erdogan in one week. According to the report, Turkey's state television TRT aired Erdogan's speeches for almost seven hours during the same period. In all these speeches, Erdogan harshly criticised major opposition parties and apparently praised the ruling AKP.

In one of the most flagrant violations of election norms, the public broadcaster TRT announced in April that it has banned the main opposition Republic People's Party's (CHP) election advert because it directly targets the government. The CHP while underlining that the TRT is "owned by the public", accused the broadcaster of "abusing public office".

Last year, during the presidential election in which Recep Tayyip Erdogan was a candidate, similar allegations were made by the opposition parties, their presidential candidates and various other analysts. Turkey's Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTUK) had noted in its report last year that the TRT was biased in showing the AKP's presidential candidate Erdogan for hours while giving little airtime to the rest of the two opposition candidates - Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu and Selahattin Demirtas. This observation was confirmed in an Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report as well. 

Growing intolerance

Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his AKP have mastered the art of creating an artificial enemy and gaining public sympathy by playing victim of a "judicial coup", "grand conspiracy", 'foreign plotting" etc. Since December 17, 2013, when a corruption probe against some government figures and businessmen close to AKP was made public, a social movement inspired by the US based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen has been blamed for forming a "parallel state" and illegally attempting to topple the AKP government.

The government's fight against the alleged "parallel state" is increasingly becoming ambiguous and paranoid with almost every critical voice being branded a member of it. The government has purged and arrested hundreds of police officers and prosecutors, raided media houses, banned reporting on various issues, arrested journalists, subjected many banking and educational institutions to punitive measures, discriminated against students of a particular school or university and vilified many innocents through libels and abusive language.

Even the opposition political parties have been alleged of forming an "unholy alliance" with the "parallel state" and working in close cooperation against the AKP. In one of the shocking remarks Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu implied that the Republican People's Party (CHP), the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) are all illegal political parties disguised as "legal".

Davutoglu said, "You see that the ultra-nationalist CHP meets with those pro-parallel [structure] people and visit their media organisations. And [representatives of] media organisations of the parallel structure visit [MHP leader Devlet] Bahçeli at MHP offices, [and] visit the HDP mayor through the backdoor. The CHP, the HDP and the MHP are three political parties which are disguised as legal".

In one of the most ludicrous accusations, President Erdogan, on the occasion of 562nd anniversary of Ottoman conquest of Istanbul, said, "There is a rag called The New York Times in America. Whatever it writes about us today, they wrote the same things about Abdul Hamid in 1896". Abdul Hamid was the 34th Ottoman Sultan whose reign lasted from 1876 till 1909.

Erdogan also alleged that The New York Times has strong ties with the Gulen movement and the Armenian lobby in the US.

The newspaper has angered Erdogan with a critical editorial published on May 22 in which it says "Mr Erdogan has a long history of intimidating and co-opting the Turkish media, but new alarms were set off this week when criminal complaints were filed against editors of the Hurriyet Daily News and its website over a headline Mr Erdogan had objected to". The editorial adds, "While the country has faced tough political campaigns before, this one is especially vicious and the mood seems unusually dark and fearful. Mr Erdogan appears increasingly hostile to truth-telling."

This intolerant attitude of Erdogan is also reflected in the fact that more than 70 people have been prosecuted for insulting him since he became the president last year.

The crucial general election in the country is just a few days ahead. No matter who wins this election, Turkey as a democracy under AKP has failed miserably. We can only wish that the election result brings a new ray of hope.

Last updated: June 03, 2015 | 15:40
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