December 18, 2014

Turkey is becoming a ‘party state’

Suat Kınıklıoğlu

The detention of dozens of journalists on Dec. 14 signifies a new level of escalation in the Turkish government's drive to suppress the graft allegations from Dec. 17-25, 2013. For weeks it was obvious that the anniversary of the scandalous graft allegations directed at four ministers and their sons would become a national rallying point to protest the farce that has taken place since then.

Thousands of police officers, judges and prosecutors have been removed. The judicial system has been tampered with in order to prevent the further prosecution of these cases and, finally, the case was very recently closed.

Protests throughout the country have been suppressed by the police force. The police have ordered 1.5 million tear gas cartridges, to be used in 2015 against protesters. To put this number into perspective, let it suffice to say that 130,000 tear gas cartridges were used during the Gezi Park protests. These are clear indicators that the government has no interest in solving the current unrest via normal democratic means but intends to suppress dissent through police force.

The detention of Zaman Editor-in-Chief Ekrem Dumanlı confirmed both to Turks and the international community that the Turkey of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is at a point of no return. Erdoğan's aggressive statements vis-à-vis the EU should serve as a wake-up call. Turkey has effectively become a party state governed by a single man. Everything in the Turkish state and bureaucracy is aligned to serve one man and his entourage. In this respect, Turkey is increasingly resembling Middle Eastern dictatorships. The difference, though, is that Turkey had the institutions, the bureaucracy and the military that constitute the fundamentals of a normal democracy. Yet, all of these institutions have become victim to the whims of Mr. Erdoğan. It is extremely sad to see these much-touted institutions and Turkey's so-called “state tradition” fall prey to a single man. However, we need to acknowledge that this is also a reality and must be figured in if and when a restoration of this nightmarish era will begin.

Turkey's downward spiral is continuing unabated. President Erdoğan appears intent to do everything to save himself and his family from prosecution and drag down the country with himself if need be. Turkey-watchers, pundits and analysts are perplexed, but the fact is that we are seeing the gradual destruction of Turkish institutions, including the judiciary, our social fabric and the notion of a united country. The resistance and opposition shown by the democratic forces is worthy of recognition. The Hizmet movement is also learning considerably throughout this process. The recent exchanges between members of the Hizmet movement and Ahmet Şık as well as the support lent by Hasan Cemal to Zaman demonstrated a renewed sense of maturation of Turkey's democrats.

The primary responsibility to precipitate change in Turkey rests with Turks alone and only through democratic processes. We should not expect foreigners or outsiders to impact such change. The Turkish opposition needs to organize well and effectively to become a credible alternative at the ballot box. Hence, an enormous amount of obligation rests with Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who is the leader of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP). He and his colleagues need to channel the current widespread discontent and form an effective coalition with a multitude of actors -- including figures such as Mansur Yavaş -- to become a formidable force at the ballot box in June 2015. The alternative is to fall prey to Erdoğan's party state.

Published on Today's Zaman, 17 December 2014, Wednesday