November 3, 2015

Turkey does not deserve a setback

John Whyte*

On Oct. 26, police forces in Turkey raided the offices of media company İpek Media Group, closing it down.

This followed the jailing of newspaper editors and threats to another broadcaster, Kanaltürk. This latest violation of basic political rights took place just days before the Turkish general election of Nov. 1. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is determined that his Justice and Development Party (AKP) party obtain the parliamentary majority that it was denied in last June's general election. His ruthlessness in pursuing this majority is driven by his need to control Parliament so that it will approve his constitutional reforms that would virtually eradicate the separation of powers and place most state powers under his direct control.

He has, of course, already gone a long way toward this goal by firing most senior officers in the police and replacing them with those dedicated to serving his interests, and reconstituting Turkey's judiciary with judges that follow state directions. These changes were evident in the attack on the İpek Media Group; there was a judicial order to shut down the broadcaster and the raid on its offices was led by the police.

Erdogan's government has repeatedly shown disregard for basic human rights such as equality, due process and the freedom of speech and of the press. In short, he has adopted the growing practice of strongman political leadership. The brutalism of this kind of politics will ordinarily offend the populations of nations with a democratic tradition, which Turkey had been successfully developing for much of the last century. But Turkey has been under high levels of stress, with its proximity to the Syrian war and its flow of refugees, its recent experience with what were claimed to be terrorist attacks, its suppression of new liberal movements, governmental repression of the Hizmet movement -- Turkey's most extensive network of civil society development -- and the internal conflict with the Kurdish population all having created a context of national instability. It is in moments of destabilization, like those Turkey is currently experiencing, that strongman leaders seek the people's consent for their repressive policies.

Regimes that take on totalitarian policies are relatively short-lived, but while they last they do tremendous damage to a nation, its people, its democratic traditions, its economy and its international reputation. After a decade of struggle to become a modern liberal nation, Turkey does not deserve this setback. And the internal movements that have tried to promote Turkey's social and economic growth should not be destroyed by the tyrannies of a paranoid political leadership.

*Professor John Whyte is the former dean of law at Queen's University, Kingston, Canada.

Published on Today's Zaman, 3 November 2015, Tuesday