History, with all the dynamics inherent and inevitable, runs it own course. What sometimes happens here and there is summarized in the Turkish proverb, “You can tell the coming of Thursday from Wednesday.”
We are now faced with an almost clear-cut case — that Erdoğan is to be elected as president of Turkey. What such an outcome suggests is only a long series of concerns, including a farewell to all the dreams held for a transition to democracy.
It is, then, time to return to late Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s famous novel, whose title I used for this column. For those who have not had the chance to read it, here is a description by Wikipedia:
“A universal story of the disastrous effects created by the concentration of power into a single man, one of the book’s most striking aspects is its focus on the God-like status held by the protagonist and the unfathomable awe and respect with which his people regard him. Dictators and strongmen managed to hold sway over the populations of their nations despite internal political division. García Márquez mocks the practice of the overspending of their families and cronies. A frighteningly accurate portrait is drawn of the intelligence director who soon directs the general’s every move and constructs an apparatus of terror and political repression.”
Whereas his book tells of the late stages of a lonely autocrat in a Latin American country, what is striking is the different meaning of the word “autumn” linked with Turkey: Following August, the country is bound to face a new phase in politics, turning into an interesting stage where we will witness an attempt to enforce a regime change, deviating even further from whatever is left of its democracy.
It would not be an exaggeration to prepare for the coming autumn as Erdoğan’s — if he wins as predicted — test season of a Turkish “autogolpe” (auto-coup).
Autogolpe? The word that may have inspired Garcia Marquez for this theme is “a form of putsch in which a nation’s leader, despite having come to power through legal means, dissolves or renders powerless the national legislature, establishes defiance to the judiciary and unlawfully assumes extraordinary powers, not granted under normal circumstances.”
Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines, Alberto Fujimori of Peru, Vladimir Putin of Russia come to mind.
As Turkey’s domestic forces of democracy and circles for reform watch helplessly, Erdoğan is now setting the stage for a similar experiment, not by dissolving Parliament, perhaps, but by reconstructing a subordinate judiciary, enforcing a submissive media and strongly hinting at a de-facto position as head of the executive, challenging the Constitution beyond its limits to sideline an elected prime minister. If successful, this attempt will end up as a massive power grab.
Turkey as of today is adrift on the arbitrariness of powers. Its already-weak, inefficient judiciary is on the verge of throwing in the towel. It has been a stage for breaches of fundamental rights (of expression, of assembly).
Accountability of the government has been reduced to zero. Enforcement of law in key court cases has been more or less suspended. Nobody has any idea whether or not four ex-ministers accused of corruption will face any serious investigation.
Erdoğan’s repeated breaches of the Constitution in the past six months remain unaddressed. Critical trials such as Sledgehammer, Ergenekon, the so-called Zirve massacre (of Christian missionaries), assassination of Hrant Dink, etc., now risk collapse because of the contagion effect of disrespect for the rule of law, and defiance for its enforcement is now spreading everywhere. It is completely unclear what kind of impact the enhancement of operational powers given to Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT) will be.
The rhetoric of Erdoğan when accepting the nomination for the presidential race suggested a new era, with an endless stream of references to religion, and a blind flight towards majoritarianism despite the lessons to be learned from Egypt.
This hints at an existential choice: an exclusive “İhvanization” of Turkey, which will mean the construction of a new social hierarchy. If so, prepare for a painful roller coaster, and a farewell to European values, perhaps forever.