My comment on ‘democracy’ package: Too late, far too little

Here is my comment for TZ:

Parliament’s stormy sessions ended with an approval of a “reform” package, and with a recess until March 26, all is now set for local election campaigns — and the judgment of the voters.
Now as never before, Turkey has become a source of profound concern among its friends and allies, among objective observers and all those who try to understand the essence of its torment. On the one hand, we have a leader who seems to lose more control even as he tries to grasp it and who, surrounded by suspicions of the dense fog of corruption, hopes to ride out the storm by fear-mongering.

He is also attempting to fight the fog by spreading artificial smoke over the political scene with allegations that remain — day after day, week after week — only allegations, and harsh statements against a “ghost enemy,” without producing any of the concrete proof that is in demand.

Erdoğan’s greatest challenge will now be to convince. He is both at home and abroad working in full gear to regain the confidence that he has lost so consistently over the past year. He knows he may have to forget any aspirations for the presidency, but this seems to matter far less to him now, because a loss in the March elections would make it impossible for him to restore the trust of the voters.

So, if anybody takes the so-called “democracy package” — which surely will be defended by his devoted pundits as a “grand finale” toward more democracy — with more than a few pinches of salt, it’s only understandable.

Is the package, passed under the title “Enhancement of Basic Rights and Freedoms,” part of a smokescreen?

At first glance, this long overdue step looks like a half-hearted attempt to divert attention from earlier, grave moves such as the criminalization of emergency medical aid and the bills on Internet regulations, the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) and the National Intelligence Organization (MİT), the last of which has been postponed until after the elections. In essence, it is much less than a half-measure. And it only postpones the real national necessity, a new constitution. Moreover, its individual parts may be subjected to further waste of time if the Republican People’s Party (CHP) or Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) takes them again to the Constitutional Court.

There are a few measures in the package that can be commended. One of them is a clause aimed at guaranteeing the right to disseminate political advertising in languages other than Turkish (although it leaves room for authorities to decide which, etc.). The threshold for state funding for parties is lowered from 7 percent to 3 percent, and this is fine. It is also important that the package includes measures that will pave the way for the return of original names to villages, towns, etc.

But that’s about it. The rest of the package is filled with content that either cries out to be scrutinized by experts who can read between the lines, or downright spurned. It is not surprising that the sections that deal with the freedom of assembly and demonstration do not look like reform, but the opposite: They all expose an authority preoccupied with developing ways to curb those rights.

The fight against hate speech is included in the package, but whether or not it will be comprehensive enough for society is uncertain. Does it protect different sexual orientations, gays, etc.? The same applies for the burning issues of anti-Semitism, racism and blasphemy. There are ambiguities and possible evasions there.

Overall, this package reeks of utilitarianism. With it, Erdoğan, the “master of political craftiness,” aims to kill more than three birds with one stone. First, parts of the package are intended to satisfy the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), the political wing of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), to at least get them to stay calm with the settlement process until after the elections; second, it is designed to send a message to the EU that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) is on the right track, “no matter what they say”; third, it is meant to escalate the debate at home by attempting to carve out further divisions among the liberal/secular camp.

Fourth, Erdoğan is trying to use the package as more ammunition to attract undecided votes that were lost in the past year.

This is a cunning game. It will not help diffuse the suspicions of immoral behavior hanging over the AKP; it will alienate Alevis and other groups who continue to feel excluded. The package is palliative: Once the confidence is gone, nobody can guarantee that after the elections, the same Parliament won’t annul the package.

What Turkey needs is a solid, new constitution.

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About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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