November 23, 2015

Irrelevance of reform pledges

Lale Kemal

There has been an ongoing massive crackdown on companies and their affiliates in the media sector that are perceived as critical of the Turkish government.

Hence, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has been showing no signs of ceasing its witch hunt under way for the past two or more years even after winning the Nov. 1 repeat election with a majority of votes to set up a single-party government .

AKP unofficially led by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has, on the contrary, accelerated pressure on all forms of dissent after its landslide election victory.

As the critical media has been coming under increased pressure including sometimes physical assault allegedly carried out by people in pro-government circles, holding companies have also been seized by a government-controlled judiciary, violating the right to free enterprise and poisoning the business environment.

In the latest move using reasonable suspicion believed to have been applied arbitrarily as the premise to take over companies, trustees were appointed to Kaynak Holding, which consists of 23 companies including a publishing house. The government-orchestrated move on the holding's companies mainly target those close to the US- based Turkish Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the Hizmet movement. While the government accuses the movement of undermining its authority, it has, however, so far failed to come up with any credible evidence to support its accusations.

Yet, the government's crackdown on the holding companies is not limited to the Gülen movement as the Doğan Media Group, which owns the Hürriyet daily and some TV channels including CNN Türk, has long been scrutinized if not yet taken over. The Doğan group's business interests are also being targeted through the initiation of court cases over charges of tax irregularities, among other things.

The Turkish government continuously ignores criticism coming from within the country and from outside over its increased suppression of all forms of dissent. It pretends as if neither freedom of expression nor protection of property rights has been heavily violated.

Yet, international rights groups, as well as Turkey's NATO allies and partners within the EU to which Ankara is a candidate member country, have long been leveling criticism against the Turkish government for its ongoing crackdown on critical voices as well as the aforementioned holding companies.

The EU Commission's Progress Report on Turkey published on Nov. 10 after a month's delay, also reflected the alarming state of Turkish affairs.

Here are some excerpts from the report:
“The independence of the judiciary and the principle of separation of powers have been undermined and judges and prosecutors have been under strong political pressure. The government's campaign against the alleged ‘parallel structure' (Gülen movement) within the state was actively pursued, at times encroaching on the independence of the judiciary. … Corruption remains widespread. The undue influence by the executive in the investigation and prosecution of high-profile corruption cases continues to constitute a major concern. … There was significant backsliding in the areas of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. … Ongoing and new criminal cases against journalists, writers or social media users are of considerable concern. … The large current account deficit continued to contribute to the economy's vulnerability to shifts in global monetary conditions and risk sentiment. …. On the internal side, inflation continued to run at a relatively high rate, which is problematic in terms of macro-economic stability, resource allocation and re-distributive effects. … Unemployment increased slightly to an annual average of 9.9 percent.”
Moreover, Turkey is ranked 90th out of 129 countries in the judicial independence component of the 2015 International Property Rights Index (IPRI), with a score of 3.5, which is 1.4 points less than its score in the 2014 index. The index was published on Nov. 16 by the Washington-based Property Rights Alliance (PRA), a group “dedicated to promoting property rights around the world.”

This same AKP government, which has been continuing its unrelenting pressure on all forms of dissent in the country, has paradoxically pledged reforms in various fields once it has formed its new Cabinet in the next couple of days. According to various dailies, the AKP pledged to make extensive reforms including the enforcement of long-stalled structural economic reforms. It is also speculated to want to lift Turkey's reservations on the European Charter of Local Self-Government in an attempt to address the Turkish Kurds' demands .

Yet, Turkey's resumed fighting with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) does not match with reports of Kurdish reforms. On the contrary, Turkish authorities make statements that would seem to kill of any future hopes for a return to the Kurdish peace process.

At the end of the day it is hard to believe that the government is genuine in wanting to implement the above-mentioned reforms against its determination to continue unabated pressure on those criticizing its authoritarian policies.

Published on Today's Zaman, 23 November 2015, Monday