Viva democracy. The people have spoken. Turkey’s strongman president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is here to stay. Power to the people, their will has been done. And all that jazz.
If only things were so simple.
Unofficial counts put Erdogan’s victory at a mere 51.4 percent. This is hardly winning-by-a-mile stuff. Rather, it is along the lines of the wishy-washy Brexit vote. The latter, too, was a close call, with the Remainers scoring just 52 percent. We now know that one year on from that ill-fated referendum that has, effectively, changed the future path of Britain’s interactions with the majority of Europe, Britons will likely be heading to the polls once more. This time for a general election that will be three years ahead of schedule.
The most striking commonality of the two referenda is the narrow margins with which both sides won. This points to deeply divided societies. It also points to the failure of the parliamentary system — in terms of votes alone representing the measure by which majority will is assured. For democracy must name the process by which it comes to power. And this must extend to existing frameworks pertaining to a free media as well as freedom of speech, both of which ought to converge to provide for an informed campaign. This didn’t happen in either case.
Turkey has a notoriously bad reputation when it comes to clamping down on a ‘dissenting’ media. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CJP), 81 journalists — editors, writers, cartoonists and photographers — were detained in Turkish prisons as of December last year (of a total of 259 globally). All of them face anti-state charges. Many believe that this is the highest number of journalists ever held in a single country at a single time. In the immediate aftermath of Sunday’s referendum, Erdogan vowed to extend by an three additional months the country’s state of emergency, initially put in place following the failed coup to out him last summer.
Thus the future looks precarious for Turkish democracy. And we, here, in Pakistan would be right to be wary of the way in which Erdogan holds both our Prime Minister and the PTI leader seemingly captivated. For it was only at the end of last year that Nawaz Sharif, in a fit of hitherto unknown decisiveness, expelled around 100 Turkish teachers working at a chain of international schools. He did so over allegations that these were run by the man believed to be behind last July’s anti-Erdogan manoeuvring.
Turkey’s outlook for EU ascension looks bleak, not least of all because of Ankara’s unease at adhering to certain criterion on the political front. But this doesn’t mean that Pakistan should not bother looking before it leaps between the sheets with the strongman of Ankara. *