DISCLAIMER: all opinions in this column reflect view of the autor(s), not of Vocal Europe
It is important to put a definition of democracy in perspective before I make some critical comments on the baffling results of the recently concluded Turkish parliamentary elections. For this purpose, I would like to quote Michael J Sodaro, a professor of political science and international affairs at The George Washington University: “The essential idea of democracy is that the people have the right to determine who governs them. In most cases they elect the principal governing officials and hold them accountable for their actions. Democracies also impose legal limits on the government’s authority by guaranteeing certain rights and freedoms to their citizens.”
To the surprise of many political analysts and observers, including me, who follow Turkish politics very closely the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) won a landslide victory in these elections to come to power for the fourth consecutive term. Concededly, my own pre-election analysis (published on October 28) that the AKP won’t be able to win enough votes to form a single-party government went horribly wrong. It ended up winning 49.4 per cent votes – enough for a parliamentary majority. It is also important to note here that this stunning result came just after five months of the AKP losing majority on June 7. Since no government was formed then due to failed coalition talks, the country faced another elections and the voters made a surprise U-turn and brought the AKP to power again.
It is a matter of intense and serious debate that what made the voters change their minds in such a short period. Did the AKP – which was anyway given the charge of forming an interim government until these elections – prevent the terrorists in the region from bombing and killing the security forces and civilians of the country? Did it try to pacify the disgruntled citizens who have been vehemently protesting for various reasons for over two years now (since Gezi Park protests)? Did it make any effort to diffuse tensions in the deeply polarised country? Did it improve its poor record on freedom of speech and independence of media?
Did it increase investors’ confidence in the country who have been disillusioned due to worsening state of economy? Did it strengthen the Turkish lira which has touched its all-time lows? Did it show any sign of creating jobs for 9.8 per cent unemployed citizens of the country?
To any naked eye and prudent mind it is there to see that they did none of these. In fact what they did is exacerbate the situation even further. To name a few, in the last five months more than 400 people, including security forces and civilians, died; terrorist attacks on civilians reached an unprecedented scale (Suruc and Ankara); unending repressive police actions on unending demonstrations injured hundreds more; a man was lynched because he looked like a Kurd in the western coastal city of Antalya; scores of journalists were detained; a pro-government mob led by a AKP MP attacked a leading newspaper’s headquarters twice (Hurriyet); a critical columnist for Hurriyet was violently attacked and hospitalised (Ahmet Hakan); two opposition television channels and two newspapers were seized by the government on flimsy ground (Bugun TV, Kanalturk TV, Bugun newspaper and Milletnewspaper); and the parent company of these channels and newspapers was brought under direct government control with the appointment of pro-AKP trustees in its management (Koza İpek Holding).
So what did the Turkish voters make this U-turn for? They haven’t done it for any significant achievements of this government in this period – as there exist none -but what they seem to have done this for is stability. Apparently, the voters did not want to risk another fruitless coalition government negotiations between uncompromising political parties and thus a third election.
But this raises a serious question on Turkish democracy itself. It is loosely said about the Middle Eastern countries that “stability and democracy does not come simultaneously in that region; either there can be stability or there can be democracy”. If this is true about Turkey as well then any idea that Turkey is a serious European Union candidate country proves to be a myth.
Going back to the definition of democracy I have quoted above, the Turkish people are definitely exercising their democratic right “to determine who governs them” but they are miserably failing “to hold them [governing officials] accountable for their actions”. The Turkish democracy is also performing poorly in effectively “imposing legal limits on the government’s authority by guaranteeing certain rights and freedoms to their citizens”.
As a prominent Turkish journalist Ahmet Altan said in a brilliant article in Turkish: “It is a life experience for us to see that today’s Turkey is not divided between Kurds and Turks, Alevis and Sunnis or modernists and conservatives, but it is divided between ‘those who want democracy and those who don’t want democracy’.”
We just hope that “those who want democracy” in Turkey win in this crucial battle.