David Romano in his column in rudaw.com underscores that Turkey has become a puppet democracy and Erdogan is the puppetmaster.
“A recent op-ed in Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper described Turkish democracy today as “performance art.” Most people already know that Turkish elections, with over 90 percent of media controlled by the ruling party and its sycophants and scores of key opposition candidates behind bars, have not been fair for some time. Yet even relatively unimportant municipal elections in this medium-sized country continue to make international headlines.
According to Cinar Kiper, the Turkish “performance art” centers are not offering Turkey’s people a real choice come election time, but rather symbolism useful to the ruling party. The elections give the government legitimacy by creating the illusion of a real challenge to president Erdogan every cycle.
For this reason we hear the same discourse every year [at least it seems that Turkey has some sort of election or referendum every year]. We hear that this year’s election is key, that the polling serves as a test for a finally vulnerable and increasingly desperate Erdogan.
The electoral campaigns are thus always full of sound and fury, even as they signify nothing. If anyone remains unsure of this, they need only look to what happened after the March 31 municipal elections. Last week Turkey’s Higher Election Board (YSK) annulled the vote in metropolitan Istanbul, which the Republican People’s Party (CHP) opposition candidate barely managed to win following a recount.
The YSK annulled this vote under dubious justifications related to electoral irregularities, such as suspicious numbers of newly registered voters (1,108 new voters in a single Istanbul apartment in one case) and local election councils not entirely composed of authorized officials. In a study of the irregularities, however, Rice University’s Abdullah Aydohan demonstrates in his recent Washington Post piece that the irregularities benefited Erdogan’s ruling AKP party rather than the opposition.
That the opposition was still able to win Istanbul despite such irregularities, a government dominated media that gives the opposition virtually no air time, the movement of large numbers of security forces to swing electoral districts (where they vote for the ruling party) and other shenanigans is a small miracle. A miracle that will not be allowed to stand, of course, with re-do elections in Istanbul slated for June.
CHP opposition leaders also correctly pointed out that the YSK only annulled the Metropolitan Istanbul vote for mayor, but not district mayoral and municipal council elections that people voted for at the same polling booths with the same voting envelopes overseen by the same “suspect” local election councils. Unsurprisingly, the district mayoral and municipal council elections that were not annulled were won by the ruling AKP.
The CHP Istanbul winner (for now), Ekrem Imamoglu, also pointed out that “the 2017 constitutional referendum and the 2018 presidential election should also be canceled as the same local election councils worked and the same procedures were followed during those elections.”
Turkey’s apparently government-controlled YSK pulled off an even more ironic feat of logic when it came to several mayors races won by the pro-Kurdish People’s Democracy Party (HDP) on March 31. Before the elections, the YSK certified the eligibility of all the candidates. After the election, it revoked the certification of eight Kurdish elected mayors in the southeast under the justification that they were civil servants dismissed by the Erdogan government from their posts following the 2016 attempted coup (which they had nothing to do with). Their votes were given to the second place party in their districts, which was, again, Erdogan’s AKP.
Using his emergency powers, President Erdogan dismissed more than 100 elected HDP mayors after 2016. Turkey watchers estimate that one in three HDP members and officials have been detained over the past 4 years, including the HDP’s former charismatic co-leader Selahattin Demirtas, who remains in prison today.
If there exists any silver lining to this cloud of “democracy as performance art,” it might be that Kemalists are now feeling the sting of policies and games they played with the Kurdish opposition since Turkey became “democratic” in 1950. If any empathy results from the experience, reconciliation could be found somewhere on the horizon.