May 26, 2015

Turkish intellectuals warn social tensions rising, urge gov’t to provide election security

A group of intellectuals, academics and artists have issued an emergency declaration calling on both the president and prime minister to refrain from hate speech and polarizing narrative while ensuring free and fair election campaigning ahead of critical national election on June 7.

The declaration -- signed by 200 intellectuals -- states, “Our country has been ruled for some time by an extraordinary regime that violates the fundamental boundaries of the rule of law.” It underlined that the government has eliminated the independence of the judiciary via blatant interference under the pretext of combatting the “parallel structure” and has eroded checks on the executive branch.

The statement noted that Turkey has entered into a new regime under the tutelage of the “palace” -- a reference to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has been pulling the strings in government affairs as if he were the executive president.

The group of intellectuals, which includes lawyers, academics, writers, politicians and journalists, said in the statement that the election campaign has become more problematic with President Erdoğan's campaigning efforts on behalf of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), which contravene the Constitution. It pointed out that the elections in Turkey are already hampered by the unusually high 10 percent election threshold and anti-democratic legislation.

The group criticized Erdoğan's insistence on making the presidential system the centerpiece of his illegal election campaign and for abusing religious symbols for political purposes. “Polarizing language has been expanded further in society,” it added.

The president, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and ruling AK Party officials often promote the idea that certain powers, particularly the “evil West” led by the US with the participation of Israel, are “jealous of Turkey's success” and trying to drag Turkey down by attempting to topple the government.

Erdoğan has targeted the Hizmet movement -- also known as the Gülen movement as it is inspired by the ideas of Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen -- especially after the graft probe went public on Dec. 17, 2013, for which he declared the Hizmet movement responsible. Erdoğan claimed that the movement desired, but failed, to depose him from power through the alleged coup attempt disguised as an investigation into corruption. Gülen has denied the accusations and the government has failed to provide any evidence to back up these claims for almost two years.

As a strategy for the March 2014 local elections, Erdoğan chose the Hizmet movement as the alleged enemy of the state, national unity and, of course, himself. He invented the term “parallel state” to describe the Hizmet movement's supposed plot to infiltrate the state apparatus and depose it from within. Erdoğan has defamed the movement as “assassins,” an “illegal organization” and a “virus” in various speeches. In one such public declaration, Erdoğan referred to Gülen as a “false prophet” and a “shallow scholar.”

Recalling that hundreds of thousands of people have been murdered in sectarian wars in Turkey's immediate neighborhood -- Syria and Iraq -- the group that signed the declaration on Monday said they are gravely concerned about the president's speeches that stigmatized and targeted vulnerable groups, such as Alevis, Zoroastrians and Yazidis.

Erdoğan has been accusing the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) of allegedly supporting the religion of Zoroastrianism in predominantly conservative and Sunni Kurdish regions in the Southeast. He has been brandishing a Quran during public rallies, bragging that the one he is carrying is in Kurdish while questioning the Muslim credentials of HDP politicians.

The statement also expressed concerns regarding attacks on the HDP offices that coincided with the AK Party-supported campaign to prevent the HDP from passing the election threshold in June.

Last week, the Human Rights Association (İHD) revealed in its report titled “Violations against political parties between March 23-May 19” that a total of 114 attacks, including three armed attacks, two bomb attacks and two arson attacks, targeted HDP bureaus across Turkey.

The group concluded by calling on the government and president to refrain from interferences that disregard the rule of law and threaten societal peace. It also asked them to immediately ensure a peaceful and secure election environment.

Earlier this month, a delegation composed of six members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) highlighted a series of problems with the June 7 parliamentary elections in a report released after the delegation completed their pre-electoral visit to Turkey.

The report mentioned issues such as unfairness in election campaigns, the obstacle of the 10 percent election threshold, secure and just handling of ballots, and fairness in media coverage along with serious concerns over President Erdoğan's involvement in the pre-electoral campaign despite a clear constitutional provision that requires him to be impartial while in office.

Referring to NGO reports, the delegation noted that serious incidents of hate speech, targeting one political party in particular, had occurred during the election campaigns. The delegation therefore called on authorities to ensure free and safe election campaigns with fair and proper competition.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has also assigned observers to 33 provinces across Turkey to observe the June 7 general election amid concerns of potential foul play.

Opposition parties' suggestions that the ruling AK Party will resort to vote-rigging tactics to compensate for the party's decreasing electoral support prompted the OSCE to increase its presence in Turkey by establishing an oversight mechanism in 33 provinces.

The signatories of the declaration included many prominent intellectuals such as Prof. Dr. Ali Nesin, Prof. Dr. Ahmet İnsel, Prof. Dr. Raşit Tükel, Prof. Dr. Taner Timur, Julide Kural, Kadir İnanır, Tilbe Saran, İbrahim Betil, Vedat Türkali, İsmail Beşikçi, Zülfü Livaneli, Turgut Kazan, Çiğdem Aydın, Arzu Çerkezoğlu, Aziz Çelik and Cevat Öneş.

Published on Today's Zaman, 26 May 2015, Tuesday