Jack Jurich, a psychologist who has been living in Turkey for 3 years…
Erdogan?s Folly: Another new ?DEMOCRACY??
The intensity of the demonstrations that have recently erupted throughout most of Turkey?s urban centers, reflect a long list of concerns about the nation?s democratic future as it is being led forward by its current ruling party, the AKP and its leader Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan.
Holding a general view of politics as a necessary evil that requires constant monitoring, I have until recently been more or less a supporter of the Erdogan government. However, the controversy surrounding the Gezi Park off Taksim square has not made it easy to maintain a positive view of a future governmental system in Turkey that has the necessary controls placed upon it to deter the inevitable corrupting influence that comes with power.
When my generally suspicious nature towards politicians is coupled with the shadowy legal nature of the Gezi Park project, the violence of the police and the Prime Minister?s response, it probably becomes impossible for me to take an unbiased view of the current political events. Nonetheless, I feel compelled to try and respond to the issues from the perspective of both sides.
It seems to be more or less generally accepted that the issues revolve around the nature of democracy more than the loss of what little open space remains in central Istanbul. The aggregate oppositions? claims are not primarily centered around whether the AKP policies are in the people?s best interests, but rather that the manner in which the projects have been undertaken is reflective of greater concerns about what is viewed as an increasingly dictatorial attitude by PM Erdogan and the AKP. In response, the AKP and its supporters tend to rally around the call that democracy means that discontents are expressed at the polls and since the PM won a majority vote, then the people?s concerns are essentially irrelevant until the next election, at which time they can express their views through the mechanism of voting.
While it is undeniably true that all definitions of democracy have as one of their core elements the idea of free elections, this is in no way in and of itself a sufficient factor in defining a democracy. Although there are thousands of elements contributing to a comprehensive definition, it is readily arguable that three central aspects are; freely held elections, an independent judiciary, and freedom of expression.
Regarding freely held elections, AKP seems well within its rights to hold to the claims of executing the will of the people. Here Turkey does much better than the US, where elections although ostensibly free are corrupted by the influence of mass media, which is easily found to be in the service of minority interests that hold monopolies over much of the regional newspapers, or by big money that can easily dominate the broadcast media on behalf of their candidates. The founders of American democracy could not have reasonably foreseen the development of these technologies and it is possible that the individual voices offered by the internet and social media may prove to be the ultimate tool to put the balance of power back into the voice of the majority rather than minorities and special interest groups.
In Turkey?s recent demonstrations, the same social media have been central in communicating the course of events and concerns of the citizenry, especially as the Erdogan government found it within its mandate to censor the more traditional broadcast mediums. Pressuring the news channels not to report on the Taksim demonstrations is the most recent in a long list of abuses directed towards limiting freedom of expression in Turkey. The Erdogan government, almost since its inception has been at the center of controversial arrests and trials of numerous reporters, academics and otherwise notable figures, who have seemingly been punished for exercising their rights to freely express themselves. The Erdogan government?s response to criticisms of abuse of power in regard to these cases has essentially amounted to – let the judiciary decide whether they are guilty or not – a response that is highly inadequate as the judiciary initiates proceedings,( which amount to a punishment in and of themselves), at the behest of the government.
In terms of an independent judiciary, besides the questionable circumstances surrounding the arrest and detention of numerous people expressing views contrary to the governments, there is also the massive urban construction project being undertaken in the Gezi Park and its surrounds, the plans for which were never properly disclosed and hence unchallengeable, which seems to be in clear violation of the law.
The PM in his seemingly insatiable appetite to be in front of an audience, chooses to ignore these claims and instead in his semi-daily addresses focuses on his having been elected by the popular vote. The implication being that democracy is only based on being fairly elected and after that, unchecked power is his right, even to the extent that he stands above the law.
Some of Turkey?s recent and substantial steps towards a government that is representative of its people have placed it in a relatively unique position to become one of the world?s emerging real democracies, but instead this possibility appears to be deteriorating into yet another situation in which a megalomaniacal leader is emerging. PM Erdogan not only appears to believe his wishes supersede the laws of the country, but that by virtue of having taken the popular vote, he has endowed with absolute authority and perhaps worst of all he feels he has the right to bore people to tears and insult their intelligence on a daily basis with his nonsensical ravings about his idiosyncratic definition of democracy. In these daily rants, he repeatedly speaks to people as if they have a fifth grade understanding of democracy that coincides with his own and constantly chides them that anyone who protests his will is anti-democratic as he won the popular vote, and in so doing totally ignoring that equally central to any democracy are an independent judiciary and freedom of expression. Presumably he knows full well that these are essential components to any democracy, yet he continuously broadcasts his self-defined form of democracy over television and radio channels that he forces to do his bidding (which alas is always accompanied by that ridiculous robotic applause), threatens to unleash his followers on demonstrators exercising their rights to free expression, and dictates the fate of whatever and whoever he wishes with little or no regard to due process of law. History has seen his counterparts in vastly more exaggerated forms in persons dating back to Julius Caesar and before and on through to other megalomaniacs, such as Mussolini and Hitler, all of whom defined democracy in a similar manner to PM Erdogan, i.e., -the people voted me in as their leader, so this gives me the right to do as I deem fit to whomever or whatever I wish-. Although, Turkey?s recent emergence as a possible candidate for developing into a real democracy is in large part due to the successes of PM Erdogan and his followers, his successes seem to have gone to his head and this hugely inflated ego now only serves to threaten the extension of any previous progress. He needs to stop the Putin-like comical tough guy posturing and step out of himself for a moment to look at the current situation from a more balanced perspective and acknowledge those concerns of the demonstrators that reflect genuine fears about the course of his leadership. Short of his immediately stepping down, this is the only hope to quickly get Turkey back on a course of fulfilling its recently gained potential to be one of the world?s few real democracies. Hopefully, he will do one or the other before anymore innocent people are maimed or killed because they dare to defy his will.