August 27, 2015

Opposition must boycott election

İhsan Yılmaz

If the Justice and Development Party (AKP) regime seizes any of the critical media outlets before the Nov. 1 general election, the opposition must boycott the elections. The AKP had been planning to do this before the June 7 election but they were not sure if this would backfire or not, so they postponed it. Since the June election results were shocking, they did not know what to do. Now it seems President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is adamant about silencing the opposition media.

An election is not only about casting votes. It also includes free debate between those with different viewpoints and their parties so that the voters can access a balanced and healthy idea about who to vote for. If the opposition media outlets are silenced, the elections are not legitimate. Even the fact that we have to repeat this “Polling 101” piece of knowledge shows the miserable state of Turkish democracy. The opposition must not play a part in this illegitimate game.

Two days ago, Turkish whistleblower Fuat Avni claimed that the government is planning a massive crackdown on critical media outlets just ahead of parliamentary election slated for Nov. 1. The Today's Zaman daily reported that Fuat Avni stated that “officials had been holding meetings for days in the presidential palace on ways to crack down on the media,” adding that they decided to seize the critical media at all costs. He said the plan was presented to Erdoğan, who gave the green light. Avni stated that the seizure of the critical media would be implemented stage-by-stage. The first target are media outlets linked to the Gülen movement, which is inspired by Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen. The next target will be İpek Media Holding, which runs the Bugün and Millet dailies as well as the Bugün and Kanaltürk TV channels. The outspoken Sözcü and Taraf dailies as well as media outlets from the Doğan Media Group are also on the list.

Avni, who has 1.5 million Twitter followers, has been taken very seriously by critics of the Erdoğan regime because he has a long and credible track record of predicting developments. It is obvious that he is someone very close to Erdoğan. Most of his predictions come true. It has been reported that the government has been spending all sorts of efforts and money to locate, internalize and silence him. Even this last point solely strengthens his credibility. A government would not care about a flimflammer; on the contrary it would benefit from such a person's groundless accusations. Avni further claimed that the Erdoğan regime would also raid famous and effective social media users. He stated that "they want to jail everyone who criticizes them before the elections."

It is well known that the Erdoğan regime has been shamelessly using the state media such as TRT channels and the Anadolu news agency to propagate only the AKP's views. In addition, more than 10 nationwide TV channels are AKP mouthpieces. The opposition parties -- the Republican People's Party (CHP), the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) and others -- can only use STV, Zaman, Bugün TV, Kanaltürk and the Doğan Media Group to get their views heard by voters.

As of today, the Erdoğan regime directly or indirectly controls 70 percent of media coverage. Erdoğan now wants to silence the remaining 30 percent. No one is saying that journalists do not commit crimes. If there is concrete evidence against journalists, they can be tried, and if convicted they can be punished. Yet, the regime punishes journalists such as Samanyolu Broadcasting Group President Hidayet Karaca and Taraf daily journalist Mehmet Baransu without trial. They have been in jail for months and the prosecutors do not prepare their indictments since they do not have any evidence. Opposition voices on this terrible problem have already been weak. They must not make another mistake by participating in an election when the free media has been silenced. Otherwise, they will be considered accomplices of the emerging dictatorship.

Published on Today's Zaman, 26 August 2015, Wednesday