Seeing as it was Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s last term as Prime Minister, when his Justice and Development Party (JDP) won a landslide victory in the 2011 General Elections, one of his aims was to introduce a presidential system in Turkey.
Perhaps having this in mind, on the very evening of his election victory, he would announce that in his new term he would embrace all strata of the Turkish society, both his supporters and the opposition.
Wishfully thinking, many optimists, including myself, believed that it was most likely that he would try to establish better relations with other political parties to achieve his goal. We hoped for less political tensions and more consensus in Turkey, and finally a widespread Spanish-style (as in 1978) cooperation to draft a new democratic constitution. We could not have been more wrong.
The ban on Twitter after a court decision last week was only one of many restrictive measures that the Erdogan government have taken since 2011, if not the most meaningless one.
The law on the Internet last month had already tightened state control diminishing individual autonomy with the pretext that, in Erdogan’s words, the government was “only taking precautions against blackmail and immorality.
If the Internet and computers are not used in a proper way under certain monitoring and order, they do not constitute beneficial and educational tools anymore. Instead, they turn into dangers with bitter results.”
The imposition of the government’s self-defined moralism have curbed freedom of speech and opinion to the extent that Turkey has beaten China and Iran in becoming the world’s top jailer of journalists (not to mention those who lost their jobs).
What was as striking is that the people of Turkey spent last November reading and watching discussions whether students’ mixed-sex house share was against the country’s ethical code, an issue which received little coverage in world media. As a matter of fact, the police were bursting into the houses of university students in the middle of nights to check who was living with whom.
A certain moral authority defined by a narrow group was once again being imposed over others: non-Muslims, liberals, LGBTs, feminists, atheists, etc. It was a testament that the Erdogan government was unaware of the educative function of endowing individuals with rights and liberties and an autonomous will guaranteed by a functioning and independent judicial system.
I am sincerely sorry that Erdogan has lost a big opportunity to become a true contributor to the history of democracy as he seems to fail to continue his peace-minded discourses, which used to call for advanced democracy, the alliance of civilisations and Turkey’s potential exemplary role to marry its Islamic (among others) customs with democratic values.
Democracy, as he seems to understand it, works only for those who support the government. Democracy is still a matter of elections. Democracy is national will.
The increasingly authoritarian rhetoric he embraced since 2011, i.e. during his “mastership” as a politician, as he calls it, came to a peak during the Gezi Parki events last summer. The dissidents managed to prevent the destruction of the park in Istanbul, which was planned to be turned into a shopping mall that Istanbul hardly lacks.
The Erdogan government saw a widespread opposition for the first time during its office time, an opposition that none of the oppositional parties, weakly organised and ideologically narrow-minded, could have supplied before. As the world watched live, the police, heroes of the Erdogan government at the time, suppressed the demonstrators with pepper gas and excessive use of force, which has led to the death of many civilians and police officers, the last being only ten days ago.
Erdogan would claim that it was the international interest rate lobby who were responsible for the events, disregarding protestors’ demands for liberal democratic rights and liberties. We have seen a perfect example of authoritarianism where the governments show a lack of concern for the wants and views of others and suggest unconditional obedience to authority.
Since December 2013, the appearance of several tapes of phone talks of the JDP’s inner circle of ministers and bureaucrats seems to have uncovered one of the greatest corruption scandals in Turkish history.
When it was revealed that Erdogan had asked in his phone talks with his son to stash away the money they have in their house on 24 February, the Prime Minister said that the recordings were fake. With the technology in hand, he furthered, his men would prepare a similar incriminating tape within a week or ten days. So far no scientific reports have shown that the tapes are fake, while we are still looking forward to seeing how tapes of this kind can be fabricated.
While new records aiming to show the level of corruption in the Turkish government and bureaucracy are being released every other day, Erdogan has got a new enemy now, the Gulen Movement, which he accuses of setting up a plot against him and of getting entrenched within the police and judiciary. Hundreds have been re-appointed in the police departments and other bureaucratic posts since the first tapes were released.
As optimistically as they were when Erdogan was re-elected PM three years ago, the freedom-minded people of Turkey, who want nothing but equal freedoms and liberties for all, are wishfully thinking that the Gezi Parki protests with its liberal democratic spirit are not over yet.
Yet they are uncertain what has been going on within the police departments and state offices.
They are uncertain if they can still trust the judicial system in Turkey. They are uncertain if a corrupt version of neo-liberal alliances has been stealing from the pockets of ordinary women and men, and how much.
They are uncertain which political party can provide a real alternative to the JDP by fully committing to democracy - a democracy which seeks to inject rights and liberties into the social, political and moral bloodstream of society regardless of ethnicity, religion or gender, embracing all, as Erdogan had once promised.
Dr Ozan Ozavci is Research Fellow, The University of Southampton