Turkey’s heading for another election, arguably one of its most important so far, as made clear by the unusually vitriolic statements by leading government members (and opposition candidates too, I gather, if the Turkish media reported on them to the same extent), seemingly stumbling over each other to say anything that would make them noticed.
Much ink gets spilled over the main issue at hand this time around: whether the AKP will get the super-majorities required to either unilaterally write a new constitution, or to push one through a referendum. A particular trait of the current constitutional debate is President Erdoğan’s desire for a stronger presidency in Turkey (and one specifically without the checks and balances of, for example, the US). The focus on this issue is quite understandable, as it could change the formal rules of government in the country quite substantially.
A concern, however, is that a too singular focus on Erdoğan and his desire for a presidency draws attention away from what the problem of the current institutional setting really is. And that isn’t parliamentarism as a system of government, as Erdoğan would like his constituency to believe, but the poverty of Turkey’s democracy overall. And while Erdoğan and his AKP government may very well have improved the living standards of its constituency, they have so far failed abysmally in extending the same courtesy to the country’s democratic system.
This post is about one particular segment of Turkey’s institutions: its elections.
Last year, just after the local elections, I wrote a series of blog posts (1, 2, 3) suggesting all was not well with how votes were counted. At that time, although members of the opposition had been complaining about this for a while, this appeared to hit a raw nerve. Within a week of my initial post, my blog had been visiting more than 70,000 times, and the various posts had been cited or linked to in FT, Washington Post, The National Interest, Jadaliyya, Christian Science Monitor, Bloomberg View, Dagens Nyheter, Cumhuriyet (1 2, 3), and Radikal. In the comments section of my blog, pro-government trolls were threatening the election NGO that had shared their data with me, and the “newspaper” Takvim generously nominated me a member of the “banker lobby” together what they perceived to be my main co-belligerents: an Australian media mogule, referred to as “the Jewish Baron”, and a Swedish tycoon, dead since 1938. An unusual week, to say the least.