May 24, 2015

Dark Clouds Over Turkey

With two weeks to go before a crucial parliamentary election in Turkey, tensions are rising and some critics of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan fear a new crackdown is starting to ensure that his Justice and Development Party wins. That kind of brute manipulation of the political process would be a serious mistake, further weakening the country’s battered democracy and tainting whatever victory might emerge.

After more than a decade of amassing power as Turkey’s leader, Mr. Erdogan could be on the verge of realizing his dream of changing the Constitution to make the president, rather than the prime minister, the leading political authority. His party, known as A.K.P., would have to win 330 seats in Parliament on June 7 — a three-fifths majority — to take a proposed constitutional change to a referendum.

The party won only 326 seats in the last election in 2011, and on Friday Reuters reported that the most recent poll by the research firm Konda suggests that support for A.K.P. has declined.

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. Referring to the verdict in the case of Mohamed Morsi, the deposed president of Egypt, it read: “The world is shocked! Death sentence for president who received 52 percent of the vote.”

Mr. Erdogan, according to Today’s Zaman, said the headline suggested that he could face the same penalty; Mr. Erdogan was also elected with 52 percent of the vote in 2014. Not only is the accusation distorted and absurd; it is a slap at the idea that Turkey is still a democracy.

A lawyer and A.K.P. supporter, Rahmi Kurt, had asked prosecutors to investigate the Hurriyet editors, accusing them of “inciting people to armed rebellion against the government” and requested their arrest. Since the complaints were made, there has been no arrest. In a statement, the Turkish Journalists’ Association faulted the government for equating journalism with terrorism and said the move against the newspaper was a “new blow to press freedom and free speech.”

On Monday the prosecutor in Ankara called for a ban on several opposition media outlets associated with the Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, a former ally of Mr. Erdogan’s who is now in self-imposed exile in the United States, according to Reporters Without Borders. Ekrem Dumanli, the editor of Zaman,one of those media outlets, was arrested with scores of others last December and accused of leading a terrorist organization. Some journalists fear the government plans to use anti-terrorism laws to shut down Hurriyet, Zaman and their parent companies — the two main independent media sources — ahead of the election and confiscate their assets.

Journalists aren’t the only ones who are worried. On Thursday, leading labor unions expressed concern about security for the June election, saying that in the quest for victory, the A.K.P. party had mobilized government institutions on its behalf and sought to depict the opposition as the “enemy” during campaign rallies and speeches.

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. The United States and Turkey’s other NATO allies should be urging him to turn away from this destructive path.

Published on The New York Times, 22 May 2015, Friday