Turkey is no longer a democracy

It is heart-wrenching to see Erdogan destroying the Turkish democracy to extend his throne

Mahir Zeynalov
Mahir Zeynalov
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Turkey repeatedly voted for the nation’s powerful prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, over the past decade as he elevated the level of democracy in a country that has suffered from four military coups, ethnic strife, political chaos and economic meltdown.

That democratic leap in the past ten years has also attracted foreign investment and boosted tourism and exports. The country has become a safe haven for investors, local currency fought back to gain a stable foothold against fluctuating inflation and an era of stability created hundreds of wealthy entrepreneurs from the country’s impoverished mainland.

That positive upsurge made a U-turn in the last two years. The sudden stop in the influx of investment, weakening Turkish lira and ballooning current account deficit came along with Erdogan’s authoritarian rule. Tandem approval of his job rating in elections assured him that the ballot box is the country’s “supreme constitution” and that laws could be changed in any direction as long as the people approve it. For Erdogan, a round of standing ovation by his supporters was more important than European standards in law-making.

During the summer protests, he initially felt weak but then he decided to pit his supporters against what he called the “3-5 looters.” He organized huge rallies to show that he still enjoys tremendous popularity, but he endorsed a rhetoric that deeply polarized society and created many enemies. He didn’t avoid using any incident that could defame the protesters, often publicly belittling them.

It is heart-wrenching to see Erdogan destroying the Turkish democracy to extend his throne

Mahir Zeynalov

He frequently exploited in public rallies an incident in which dozens of masked men allegedly assaulted a young headscarved mother during the Gezi Park protests, beating and harassing her. The incident was condemned by many public figures and sent chills across the country. Media close to Erdogan repeatedly published stories about the incident in a bid to show the protesters as savages. But recently released security footage, aired by a Turkish TV channel, showed that no incident took place.

This is only one case of a storm of attacks by Erdogan and his cronies against critics. For him, the opposition parties, critical civil society organizations, businessmen, media, prosecutors and others who are just doing their jobs are “traitors.” For the prime minister, everyone needs to respect to what he calls “National Will” – an elected government, trying to convince that the public has authorized the government to do whatever it wants.

Storm of blatant lies

To support their arguments, Erdogan, his ministers and media are also providing false information in a very amateur way. Last week, for instance, he said during his parliamentary group speech that he was not aware of my tweets. This statement stands in contrast to his attempt to jail me for the tweets I posted only a month ago.

Erdogan vowed to speed up the process of burying Turkey’s hard-won democracy on Dec. 17, when a surprise operation put behind bars the sons of three Turkish ministers, businessmen close to the government and the chief of the state bank. Some of the suspects were later released. In subsequent days, Erdogan removed thousands of police officials, reshuffled prosecutors and sacked many bureaucrats he deemed to be disloyal. He took the graft investigation from famous and skilled prosecutors and appointed prosecutors to supervise the case who are loyal to him. Briefly, he was largely successful in killing one of the biggest corruption investigations in modern Turkish history.

On Saturday, he moved to restructure the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), the top judicial body that is responsible for appointing judges and prosecutors. The bill, which was adopted following a fistfight in the Parliament, effectively ended the separation of powers and significantly damaged the nation’s democracy. The new structure of the HSYK gives the government more control over judiciary and halts the rule of law. New laws will also require police chiefs to ask permission from government-appointed governors when they are ordered for an operation by prosecutors. This is enough to argue that the democracy is dead in Turkey.

Measuring democracy

The most reliable way to measure the country’s democracy is the freedom of press. It is no secret that Turkey jailed more journalists than any other country in the world, including Iran and China. It falls in bottom 30 countries in the ranking of press advocacy groups. Last week, even the prime minister admitted that he had to “teach the media” how to work because they allow people “insulting me.” For Erdogan, criticism means insult.

With a rubber stamp parliament, an exceptionally weak president, a judiciary under the government’s control, rampant corruption, the leaders’ divisive rhetoric and a media under Erdogan’s tight control, Turkey is no more the democracy that was touted as a role model for post-revolution Arab nations only a few years ago.

Turkish liberals and democrats had worked with Erdogan to raise the country’s profile and consolidate democracy over the past decade. It is heart-wrenching to see that the man is destroying democracy to extend his throne.


Mahir Zeynalov is an Istanbul-based journalist with English-language daily Today's Zaman. He is also the managing editor of the Caucasus International magazine. You can follow him on Twitter @MahirZeynalov

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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