April 27, 2015

Turkey is no longer a democracy

Abdullah Bozkurt

The open defiance of Turkey's Islamist rulers and their partisan hacks in the judiciary of the landmark court judgment that ordered the release of a wrongfully jailed senior journalist and dozens of anti-corruption investigators from long pre-trial detention is yet another clear piece of evidence that political Islamists in Turkey do not believe in the rule of law, fundamental rights and democracy at all.

The non-execution of the court order to release Hidayet Karaca, a veteran journalist and the general manager of leading national TV network Samanyolu in Turkey, also exposed the extent of the damage the four years of increasingly authoritarian misrule of political Islamists under the leadership of corrupt President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has done to most national institutions, including the judiciary and the civil service. Erdoğan and his company of crooks must be terrified of the prospect of releasing the anti-corruption investigators who discovered his involvement in massive corruption schemes with Iranians as well as his hoarding of piles of cash from the billions of dollars that were funneled by Gulf patrons to radical groups in Syria.

For the first time in Turkey, a prosecutor has not enforced a court judgment, under immense pressure brought about by the government that played out in the open, with the chief prosecutor -- a political appointee put in place by the government-controlled judicial council -- rushing to the courthouse in the middle of night to stall the execution of the court order. Former Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ, a partisan hack, had to start tweeting at late hours to advocate the continuing imprisonment of defendants. He made a blunder when he wrote hastily drafted messages that he had to erase later. The parliamentary Justice Commission's head, Burhan Kuzu -- who is an advocate of mass profiling of unsuspecting citizens and a strong supporter of the witch hunt against government critics -- had to drop by the courthouse to pressure prosecutors on the night shift not to transmit the judge's release order to the prison warden.

This latest incident made abundantly clear once more the fundamental challenge facing Turkey: The country's Islamist government in general, and Erdoğan in particular, have all become part of the problem in the fast democratic backslide. Once hailed as beacon of hope amid Arab revolutions in 2011, Turkish Islamists dropped the ball and opted for authoritarian leadership rather than assisting the consolidation of democracy, improving transparency and accountability, strengthening civil society participation in governance and allowing the media to monitor and report human rights abuses nationwide. Having been shaken by unprecedented graft probes, Erdoğan and his associates have done their best to suspend the rule of law, subordinate the judiciary, silence independent and critical media, pressure businesses and place an iron grip on civil society.

Islamists also killed the investigative capacity of law enforcement agencies by purging veteran police officers by the thousands, which was unparalleled even in the military coup eras, and neutered the government watchdog agencies -- as well as Parliament -- that are charged with monitoring government actions and auditing expenditures. While checks and balances were rapidly eroded, Erdoğan and his ilk hastily pushed anti-democratic bills through the rubberstamping Parliament with a view to dismantling the relatively independent and impartial judiciary in a systematic and persistent way. They abused the criminal justice system to prosecute government critics and opponents from all walks of life. The witch hunt cases are all handled by a handful of loyalist and partisan prosecutors and judges who are beholden to Erdoğan's one-man regime. They disregard market economy rules by pressuring businesses to support Islamists or otherwise face the wrath of the government in the form of targeted auditing, hefty financial penalties and undue punishments by politically motivated state regulators.

Turkey's transformation from a liberal market economy and democracy to an authoritarian Islamist rule under the stewardship of Erdoğan and his associates presents a more ominous threat to the vital interests of the Turkish nation. This roll-back of democratic gains in the country also poses a significant challenge to Turkey's neighbors, partners and allies in ways even the military rulers in past coup eras were unable to do. Turkey, departing fast from democracy, cannot function as a reliable partner with either NATO or the EU because it will no longer be able to play the role of an active participant in regional and international economic, political and security forums. For the Islamists in Turkey, the only game in the town is survival and they are ready to risk anything and everything to ensure their rule.

Just a quick glance at Erdoğan's international visits this year is more than enough to conclude that he had succeeded in irritating so many of Turkey's partners and allies, from Latin America to Southeast Asia, from Africa to Europe. His belligerent narrative and exploitation of foreign policy issues for domestic consumption have turned Erdoğan into a liability rather than an asset. Therefore he can no longer function as a leader who can support global and regional policy objectives pursued by our traditional partners in a transatlantic alliance or newly discovered partners in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

The government's denial of release for Karaca and others indicates that the Islamists in power in Turkey are terrified that the climate of fear they were able to create with the blatant abuse of criminal justice system is nearing its end. They fear that the psychological barrier imposed on the population will soon break down, opening the floodgates for a backlash against the government and leading to an eventual ouster from power.

The non-execution of the judge's order also signals that Islamists will not remove themselves from power voluntarily, even if the people vote them out from power at the ballot box. They will definitely rig the elections and engage in massive fraud at the ballot box. But even if they still lose, capital insiders are talking about the contingency plan of the Islamists. Loyalist and partisan judges will be found to declare results null and void, citing technicalities. The lingering suspicion that the Islamists won't cede power to the subsequent government has been confirmed, as they do not believe in an alternate government. They have already been quite busy undermining the rule of law and fundamental rights in the democratic regime of Turkey.

At a public rally on Sunday, caretaker Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu shamefully described the judge who ordered the release of Karaca and others as a coup-plotter working against the government. That shows a far-fetched imagination that has been displayed often when the government found it difficult in numerous past instances to explain its own policy failures. It was a coup when environmentalists rallied against the government to save trees in one of the last remaining green places in İstanbul during the 2013 Gezi protests. It was a coup when sports club fans protested against the government. It was a coup when prosecutors investigated senior Islamists for their involvement in corruption. It was a coup when the US administration was critical of the democratic backslide in Turkey, and independent think tanks such as Freedom House and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) were co-conspirators in this coup when they raised questions about press freedom woes in Turkey.

It was a coup when gendarmes intercepted arms-laden trucks that were en route to Syria to deliver heavy ammunition to radical groups. It was a coup when the Turkish lira lost its value fast and credit rating agencies slashed ratings for Turkey. It was a coup when 301 miners were trapped and killed. It was a coup when two opposition parties nominated a joint candidate in the presidential election. It was a coup when influential business leaders criticized the government on the rule of law, the lack of reforms and interference. It was a coup when investigative journalists exposed massive illegal profiling of citizens carried out by Islamists. Pope Francis was part of the evil axis and of the same mentality when he described the killings of Armenians in the Ottoman era as genocide. The leaders of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Egypt were also coup plotters against Erdoğan when they criticized Turkish Islamists' meddling in their domestic affairs. The long list goes on and on.

With this coup frenzy and conspiracies to justify the authoritarian and even totalitarian government, Islamists may be taking Turkey on a fast route to a real military coup, one that may be staged by the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) to preserve stability, security and peace in the country as a last resort. Although I'm strongly opposed to any sort of military intervention, it will be rather difficult to argue against whether such a coup could be classified as a “democratic coup” as defined in the academic literature. After all, if elections have lost their meaning in a true democratic sense, to depose an authoritarian leader who won't relinquish power at any cost and will do anything and everything to cling to power, including an escalation of ethnic and sectarian violence in the country and starting a war with a neighbor, a coup may very well be deemed democratic. I hope it never comes to that.

Published on Today's Zaman, 27 April 2015, Monday