Turkey’s reluctant democracy, reluctant elections

One has to wonder the extent to which those who defend democracy, or at least pretend to do so, have internalized the system. Do they defend democracy because it is an ideal system of government, or because it is the best tool in meeting their objectives? Or perhaps because the conjunction of domestic and external conditions have forced them to defend and/or substitute democracy.

History has borne witness to the way in which those who pass reforms reluctantly, in order to secure the support of a foreign power against another external force that threatens the welfare of the state, eventually turn authoritarian and shelve democracy.

To secure Western support in the 1838 Egyptian Affair and the 1853-56 Crimean War, the Ottoman Empire passed the edicts of Gülhane and Reform, respectively. To ensure American support against Joseph Stalin’s threats, the Turkish Republic passed multiparty reforms in 1945. These instances show that democracy was announced rather unwillingly, not as the result of widespread public demand.

 Since democracy in Turkey was not founded on demands of the public, neither the erosion of democracy nor the construction of a totalitarian regime under the guise of democracy, have attracted serious criticism from the public. Whether the democratic demands of the elites have been accepted by the public remains uncertain.

As a result, people have remained silent as democracy in Turkey has frequently been shelved, and they have seen no harm in maintaining an easy come, easy go attitude. Indeed, following the 1960 coup, the 1961 constitutional referendum passed with 61.5 percent of the vote, while the 1982 constitutional referendum that followed the 1980 coup passed with 91.4 percent. Granted, the degree to which these results reflect the public will is debatable. Nevertheless, there is no evidence that the public objected to the announced results.

Following three periods of constitutional monarchy and one republican experiment, the foundations of the Second Republic were laid in the May 27, 1960 military coup, dubbed a “revolution.” The constitution was prepared, presented to the public, and passed by a referendum on July 9, 1961. The Second Republic was inspired by the administration of Prime Minister Adnan Menderes, a popular leader whom the military viewed as a threat and consequently deposed.

A new order was proposed to thwart authoritarianism that could result from a political party gaining a majority of parliamentary seats and the party leader making claims to the “national will.” A strong parliament was established to counterbalance the executive. Proportional representation in parliament averted the procurement of parliamentary majorities by a single party. This created a system that lent itself to parliamentary coalitions.

 A Republican Senate was created to prevent the concentration of power in the parliament. Permanent members included the National Union Committee, which had been formed by the 1960 junta of colonels, as well as former presidents of the republic. These permanent members numbered 19. In addition, there were 15 members appointed by the president. The Senate resembled the Assembly of Notables, the upper house of the Ottoman Parliament. Legislation was enacted by the Senate and the elected chamber of Parliament, referred to as the “Meclis.”

The Constitutional Court was established as a secondary safety valve, to act as an additional control mechanism over legislative activities. Although it was intended to hinder civilian administrative power, the inclusion of the separation of powers doctrine in the Constitution was a productive development. It is important to bear in mind that freedoms such as independent universities and free speech were products of this Constitution.

The Second Republic was a military tutelage. The National Unity Committee had power over all institutions. After a civilian administration came to power, the military issued a memorandum in 1972 to make fine adjustments and limit this wide frock.

 Taking advantage of the freedoms provided by the 1961 Constitution, the unwanted children of the state began to express themselves. The Islamists and the Kurds had been labeled “reactionaries” and “dividers.”

The Islamists expressed themselves through political parties led by Necmettin Erbakan. Kurds did the same in leftist parties. The Islamist’s National Order Party was shut down in 1970, and the Turkey Workers Party was shut down in 1971 due to its emphasis on “the Kurdish people.”

In the military coup of September 12, 1980, the military tutelage was revised in keeping with the times. A new order was established to prevent the representation of so-called reactionaries and dividers in Parliament.

The 1982 Constitution created more difficult election conditions—using electoral districts and parliamentary thresholds—which prevented ideological parties from entering Parliament. The 10% electoral threshold laid the foundation for the establishment of powerful governments and prevented the representation of both Kurds and Islamists. All of these regulations were designed not to institutionalize democracy, but rather to create a totalitarian regime under the guise of democracy. A totalitarian national order. But this national order did not represent the will of the nation.

 With the July 15, 2016 coup, a military order with a civilian disguise was constructed once more. Every military coup has culminated in the purge of soldiers that opposed the coup. In the most recent coup, the fact that the military and civilian purges were equally expansive demonstrates that the coup was carried out by a civil-military coalition. Although a civilian government seems to be in control in the post-coup period, behind the curtain operates a military tutelage that cooperates with a civilian government.

Those “reactionary and divisionary” elements that had been vilified by the 12 September regime were allegedly replaced by the Gülen Movement (led by Pennsylvania-based cleric Fethullah Gülen) and Kurdish politicians. Reactionism has become synonymous with the Fethullah Terrorist Organization (FETÖ), and Kurds are treated as indistinguishable from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is designated as a terrorist organization by the Turkish government. The July 15 regime has inherited the fight waged by the September 12 regime.

To ensure the continuity of this regime, the transition to a presidential system was effected through the April 16, 2017 constitutional referendum, and the efficacy of Parliament was minimized. As such, alleged enemies of the state were blocked from having a voice in government administration. New regulations have gone further.

The changes to election law, which were criticized in a report published by the Council of Europe and the OSCE, created a platform that allows authorities to determine who can and cannot be elected. The changes brought about in this period are as follows:

Ballot boxes in the East and Southeast were consolidated,

Unsealed ballots were counted as valid,

Election ink was abolished,

Syrians were allowed to vote,

People living in the same apartment were made to vote at different ballot boxes,

Votes cast abroad were not counted until they were brought back to Turkey.

All of these regulations laid the groundwork for election fraud. This is the biggest attack on the will of voters since the “Open Voting Secret Counting” system of 1946, in which people were made to vote openly in front of ballot officials while their votes were counted behind closed doors.

“…We were always despised and mocked. This is part of what motivated us. Thank God we have been able to reach these places today. They didn’t want administrators who went to the mosque when they heard the call to prayer. Therein lay the problem. This is why the spirit of imam hatips [religious vocational schools] is alive.”

These words belong not to the representative of a political party, but the country’s top election body, the Supreme Electoral Council’s (YSK) President Sadi Güven. Güven made this speech at the annual graduation ceremony of his alma mater, the Balıkesir Imam Hatip High School. Can you now trust the YSK? The government does, and in fact extended his term which was set to expire in January. They trust each other after all.