October 29, 2015

A moribund republic at its 92nd anniversary

Bülent Keneş

…the Turkish Republic is today in death throes with its imperfect democracy and rule of law that complement its identity. This is because it is under the ruthless and spoiled domination of a minority that we define as "certain very marginal groups." This small lot is dreaming of establishing a so-called "Grand State" by taking certain problematic periods of despotism as their reference instead of the values and experiences of the republican era. While their ties with reality have been completely severed, they have almost entirely hijacked the republic. The Turkish Republic is standing on its last leg at the hand of this ferocious ruling minority which is head over heels in crime and corruption. Either the republic is restored with a shock therapy that is applied before it is too late or it will be completely dominated by an unadulterated dictatorship, which is no stranger in the Middle East and Asia.

A bird's eye view of the developments of recent years and recent weeks in our country is enough to prove that the current suis generis regime can hardly be designated as a state guided by the rule of law. That the republic, literally meaning the rule of the public, is gradually losing this quality is easy to see or acknowledge. In a climate where the top rulers of the state are associated with all sorts of corruption and bribery allegations and where there are strong suspicions that they have committed the gravest forms of national and international crimes, any fair person can easily realize that the existing regime is gradually being stripped of separation of powers, checks and balances, fundamental rights and freedoms, transparency and accountability and is turning into a one-man regime that is a mixture of a sultanate and dictatorship.

A regime where the judiciary has lost its independence and impartiality due to unlawful "project" judges and partisan prosecutors, and where the police department has turned into a militia for the government and for one man who is more powerful than the government, and where the free media is being silenced one by one and at least 80 percent of media outlets are being controlled directly or indirectly by that one man, and where the state-owned media organs have emerged as the propaganda machinery for this despotism that is becoming stronger day by day, can no longer be labeled as a democracy or republic, or as having the rule of law.

A regime where companies and businessmen are threatened and their assets are arbitrarily seized and where a handful of free and independent media establishments are being shut down one by one and TV channels are being dimmed, can only be defined as a dictatorship. If, in a regime, true civil society organizations (CSOs) are crushed -- while thousands of fake CSOs, which are nothing but government organized nongovernmental organizations (GONGOs) -- and even those who voice the slightest of criticisms are quickly stigmatized as "terrorists," you can call it anything other than a republic or a democratic state governed by the rule of law.

If the opposition is muted and all public resources are given to the disposal of one man without any control or review and tolerance to the slightest form of opposition is near zero, then we should start talking about the unlawful and arbitrary dictatorship being established. A regime where no one can enjoy security of life or property and the honor and dignity of democrats, intellectuals and dissident social groups is systematically lynched by tens of thousands of hatchet men can hardly be described as the people's regime or a republic.

A one-man despotism where the judiciary is turned into a simple weapon for crushing every dissident individual and therefore is not trusted by anyone and where security of law has been completely eradicated cannot be defined as democratic state governed by the rule of law or a republic. If you can seize Koza İpek Holding, one of Turkey's largest conglomerates which owns Turkey's most influential democratic media tools, unfairly, unlawfully and with blatant arrogance with hundreds of heavily armed police officers, you cannot talk about a republic which is a form of governance based on wisdom and virtues.

Imagine a regime where the powers and their supporters focus on stealing the goods and money of people, plundering the public resources and engaging in theft and bribery instead of working to earn their income, and where the rule of law is replaced with despotism, wisdom and virtues with immorality, transparency with deregulation and tolerance with arrogance and rudeness! Can such a regime be called democracy or a republic? Actually, we can add many items to this list, but I think that is enough.

Although we have been trying for centuries to turn it into a proper democratic state guided by rule of law where society can fully enjoy their contemporary citizenship rights and fundamental rights and freedoms, our republic is currently in death throes because of the arbitrariness and unlawfulness of Erdoğan's sultanate. The country is currently facing far greater dangers than the republic had encountered on the road to its establishment.

In these grave and terrible conditions, Turkey will either give the kiss of life to its republic on Sunday or the republic will fade away in the hands of an ambitious and unprincipled mindset which sees democracy as a "streetcar where you get off at the right station." Sunday's election is our last democratic chance to save our republic with its potential problems. The ballot box which may be brought before us perhaps for the last time seems to be the only democratic way to protect the republic and its achievements as the rule of law is largely undermined in our country. If this last chance for protecting the republic without dispensing with democratic methods is wasted in line with the expectations of dictatorship hopefuls, Turkey will certainly go through unprecedented problems, crises and chaotic days in all respects.

Excerpted from the author's column published on Today's Zaman, 29 October 2015, Thursday