October 29, 2015

Nov. 1… Hope for democracy in the face of tyranny

Cafer Solgun

Then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) faced two choices when the infamous Dec. 17 and 25, 2013 corruption investigations swept onto the country's agenda.

Either they were going to allow the investigation to move forward and be tried by an independent justice system, or they were going to try and prevent the truth from coming out. In the end, the second choice won out.

But of course, Erdoğan and the AKP needed to have a reason for blocking the investigation. They were intent on escaping the power of the law, but how to explain this to the Turkish public? They needed to find such a good explanation that it would ensure their supporters remained staunchly behind them.

And so, Erdoğan came out strong, declaring, “What we have here is a coup attempt.” Yes, this was to be his reason. But who then was behind this coup attempt? A handful of prosecutors and a police chief? This didn't sound too likely, so it was at this point that the whole concept of the “parallel state structure” was created. As it turned out, this was to become an extremely useful conceit; the parallel state could be blamed for practically everything that had gone wrong during the AKP's long stay in power.

As Erdoğan made the rounds, telling citizens the absurd tale of a so-called coup attempt, not even his closest circles believed him. But as his fellow partisans realized that the story was actually working, their hesitation waned, and they too began telling this story to anyone who would listen. It is this support that is the most influential factor in making Erdoğan the lawless, unfettered power that he is today.

Erdoğan's first move in the wake of the explosive Dec. 17 and 25 situation was to remove the police chiefs and prosecutors in charge of following up on bribery and corruption charges from their positions. He then fiddled with the makeup of the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), successfully taking over this influential council. At the same time, thousands of police officers were removed from their jobs, reassigned to different positions, and sometimes fired. Next, it was the turn of prosecutors and judges. Somehow, during this period of judicial takeover, it became completely normal to see prosecutors and judges arrested. Notably, what Erdoğan saw clearly was that there was no reaction, no result from his arbitrary and illegal moves. In short, he ordered these things to be done and they were done.

In the meantime, using the AKP's majority in Parliament, Erdoğan oversaw the legislation of back-to-back laws aimed at suppressing opposition criticism. Laws like the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) Law, the Domestic Security Law and the various Internet laws all wound up degrading Turkey's democratic standards on many levels. At the same time, these laws worked to finalize the power of an autocratic, censorship-wielding state in the face of a potentially opposition-minded society.

The observation that the opposition in Turkey simply sat back and watched as a “single-party” and “single-man” regime was carefully constructed over these years is unfair. But it is fair is to say that no influential or effective opposition was ever galvanized; not enough was done to inform or warn the public about what was happening.

When you add to the ineffectiveness of the political opposition the ineffectiveness of civil society organizations, labor syndicates and the media, it becomes clearer why it was so easy for Erdoğan to push his plans through.

Perhaps the most striking reason for the opposition's relative silence in the face of all this was that so many people believed in the story of the “parallel state.” Countless important political, social and media pundits ascribed the events playing out in the main arena to being an “AKP-Gülen group” fight, and thus stood back. And this, from the very start, was Erdoğan's goal.

The June 7 parliamentary elections didn't turn out the way Erdoğan had been hoping they would. This Sunday's elections are simply the continuation of the story.

If there is any positive aspect to the development of the takeover of the İpek Media Group, it is the widespread understanding now that it is not just the Gülen movement which preoccupies the AKP and Erdoğan.

The story of the AKP and Erdoğan will set off in a new direction on Sunday. Either this story will come to a close, or it will lead us into a more painful final chapter than we had either expected or believed possible.

Unfortunately, the Nov. 1 election will neither be fair nor secure. But despite this, I do believe that the resounding message from ballot boxes will be this: “No more tyranny!”

Published on Today's Zaman, 29 October 2015, Thursday