Our country experienced a visible level of palace intrigue during the second half of 2015, not just when democracy was completely discounted, but when President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Deniz Baykal met together. Voters were forced to make not a free choice, but a choice dictated by fear. This is the indisputable truth. But it does not answer why it is that voters experiencing real fear chose to take shelter not with the opposition, but with the Justice and Development Party (AKP). Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and the AKP won because they told the country, “We got your message” and “We’re returning to our factory settings.” They won because they tried to distance themselves from arrogance, disdain and excessive spending. By keeping its electoral campaigning as far away from debates on the new presidential system as possible, the AKP’s whole “We got your message” theme took on more meaning. It should be noted that Ahmet Bey’s successful copying of the CHP’s social and economic policies also wound up pushing the AKP toward victory. While shining the spotlight on the minimum wage and thereby causing that wage to be raised, was really a success of the CHP, it was the AKP who reaped the benefit of the idea.
AKP head Davutoğlu’s post-election balcony speech was inspiring. He gave us warm rhetoric about peace, love and embracing all of Turkey. His words were akin to fresh water in a desert, the desert being the socially polarized, economically shaky vistas of Turkey over the last year. His stance, in favor of a state of law and the supremacy of justice, democracy and basic rights, was good to hear. Unfortunately, though, Davutoglu’s words remained right there on that balcony; they were never transformed into any sort of political platform. And in the meantime, we’ve witnessed a full scale trampling of press freedom in Turkey. Some of our most notable journalists have been arrested, imprisoned and put on trial: Can Dündar, Ekrem Dumanlı, Hidayet Karaca, Cengiz Çandar, Bülent Keneş and others. The structure of our state of law appears to be teetering, about to collapse at any moment into a heap of junk. No private company or press entity seems safe anymore in the face of the new politically motivated criminal courts we’ve seen created by Ankara. Companies are being seized, newspapers shut down, television channels taken off the air, all without official court decisions. While real terror rages unhampered in parts of the country, thousands of innocent people are accused of being involved in “terror groups” because they refuse to obey those in power. There are rampant arrests and firings. We now have a country where corruption is apparently no longer a crime. Ankara tells us, “There was no corruption.” They toy with our minds.
At the same time, we know that Ahmet Bey and many important figures in the AKP actually have nothing to do with corruption, or the corrupt policies we are seeing. But we also know that these people have failed to push any transparency bills through Parliament. All you need to do is take a quick glance at the decisions coming down from the Cabinet to see this. The fact that a politician like Efkan Ala — who made his utter disregard for parliamentary democracy and the state of law crystal clear in the past — is now our minister of the interior says it all. And was it Ahmet Bey’s decision to reward a politician who swung around a large stick and spoke threateningly outside the Hurriyet daily’s office with the title of deputy minister? We doubt this. Which is where the dead end facing Ahmet Bey lies. Despite his titles as both head of the AKP and prime minister, Ahmet Bey is not the final address for decisions. He is hopeless in the face of decisions coming out of the palace in Ankara. We all know, and have experienced first hand, the fact that it is none other than Tayyip Bey who is shaping the decisions.
After the Gezi protests, Tayyip Bey decided to shape all his politics based on the oldest fault line that exists in Turkey: secular-Muslim polarization. The Zaman newspaper and the Gülen movement in general have stayed far from this fault line. They are now being punished for not lining up behind Tayyip Bey. Not because they are involved in terror. Could there be anything more ridiculous than trying to connect entities like the Koza İpek Media Group or Bank Asya with being involved in a terror group? If this is the way things are going, anyone in Turkey stands to be a potential terror suspect. Ahmet Bey doesn’t need to look far to see evidence of what’s happening. When he wakes up in the morning, all he needs to do is glance at the rhetoric of the pro-government media to see its language of hatred and the direct threats issued at other papers like Zaman, Cumhuriyet and Hurriyet.
Ahmet Bey could potentially have used all the political, ethnic and social wealth at his fingertips to embrace all of Turkey, to rebuild a state of law and to bring about domestic peace. Can he still, though? Perhaps. But the developments we see are not inspiring.