The race is on

Here is my column for TZ, today:_____________________________________


Tension that built up within and around the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has been released, as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s candidacy was announced yesterday.

It was more or less like stating the obvious.

The scene is set for what seems to be the second round of a historically critical vote that will define the character of the regime and the degree of its democracy. Two pious, conservative candidates and a young Kurdish nationalist challenging each other can mean nothing else.

The local elections on March 30 were the first test for those voters who have grown dismayed about Erdoğan’s ways based on issues that, at their core, have to do with morality.

They ended as a defeat for the centrist opposition parties, as the lack of convincing alternative policies and figures proved acute and unsolvable. This has pushed forth the two-tiered presidential elections as a watershed for whether or not Turkish people will endorse Erdoğan to rule the country singlehandedly and accumulate more power. Given the stakes, there are very few observers giving his rivals a chance at all.

Thus, we face a path wide open to a “party state” and an “order” that is subordinated to a leader, whose displeasure to being held accountable or being criticized is now well known.

Professor Ersin Kalaycıoğlu of Sabancı University recently warned that from August onwards, Turkey risks copying and pasting an “autogolpe,” experienced painfully in Peru because of former President Alberto Fujimori; a “delegative democracy,” as in Venezuela under former President Hugo Chavez; or “competitive authoritarianism,” symbolized by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Majoritarianism adopted by Erdoğan during the past two years also signals that Turkey is drifting to a model resembling the one of Malaysia.

Erdoğan’s acceptance speech on Tuesday was filled with references to “God’s will,” “the national will,” “standing for the sufferers” and the exclusive pursuit of causes on Muslim lands. He displayed clearly that a new threshold was passed to consolidate power in what his party represents and attracts.

He depicted a presidential model — should he win — in which the powers of the prime minister would be, de facto or officially, be handed over to a higher post.

Those observers, and I am one of them, therefore find it superfluous to discuss who would be his successor as prime minister. It will not matter: Erdoğan’s game of political survival will have to be strictly based on keeping the reins tight in Ankara. He has shown that he is not one to share or delegate power, neither in the party nor in the country. This will not change.

What is also known by now, to the disappointment of many in and outside the country, is that Erdoğan is entering elections in a country where, instead of solving the political, social and judicial problems, he has left them unresolved and made them far worse.

As noted by a keen Turkey observer, Marc Pierini, a previous ambassador of the EU in Ankara: “Turkey’s rule of law architecture has been largely dismantled during the past year: judiciary procedures have been halted, serious allegations have not been investigated, the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) has lost a large part of its independence, media freedoms have been further restricted, Internet and social media usage has been hampered and dissent has been quelled in a harsh manner.”

The trend is far worse now. Turkey is going to the elections after President Abdullah Gül ratified a legal package that in practice brings the judiciary much closer on all levels to subordination to the executive branch, raising fears of growing oppression.

Against this gloomy background, the question is whether what the other two contenders will pledge to the voters is at all interesting. Everyone knows at this stage that Selahattin Demirtaş, endorsed by his Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) represents Kurdish aspirations for a solution and has no appeal to other voter segments. The Kurdish vote will be tactical, and aims at Erdoğan giving concessions.

The main challenge is with Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, whose candidacy is borne out of an alliance between the Republican Peoples’ Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). What will Ihsanoğlu promise, and to whom? Will he be able to unite dissent against the AKP? Nobody has the answer.

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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