Er­doğan is a strong­man tight­en­ing his grip on power

The Guardian - - OPINION -

“We re­main com­mit­ted to jus­tice,” wrote the Turk­ish pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­doğan in this news­pa­per in an ar­ti­cle mark­ing the first an­niver­sary of the 15 July coup at­tempt to re­move the gov­ern­ment of his rul­ing Jus­tice and De­vel­op­ment party (AKP). How­ever, the ques­tion is what sort of jus­tice Pres­i­dent Er­doğan wants his coun­try to com­mit to? In a speech at the week­end to thou­sands of sup­port­ers, he seemed to be ad­vo­cat­ing cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment as a form of ju­di­cial ret­ri­bu­tion – say­ing that if par­lia­ment voted for a bill bring­ing back the death penalty, he would ap­prove cut­ting off traitors’ heads. Such a move would set Turkey back in terms of both for­eign and do­mes­tic pol­i­tics.

Re­in­stat­ing the death penalty would end Turkey’s bid for ac­ces­sion to the Euro­pean Union, talks over which have stalled thanks mainly to con­ti­nen­tal in­tran­si­gence. Cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment is not only bar­baric and im­moral but its de­ter­rent ef­fect un­proven. It gives the state the right to elim­i­nate any­one whom it finds dan­ger­ous even when there are other ways the dan­ger can be con­tained. Turkey’s mod­ern democ­racy should be a leader to fol­low for Mus­lim states, not a fol­lower of bad leads.

The top­pling of elected politi­cians by the gen­er­als would have been wrong. Turk­ish sol­diers seized state tele­vi­sion and tanks were seen on the streets. Turk­ish F-16s bombed the coun­try’s par­lia­ment build­ing. Yet or­di­nary Turks did not want a re­turn to mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship and came out to de­fend the sta­tus quo. As did op­po­si­tion politi­cians, who con­demned the at­tempted putsch. Thou­sands were wounded and 250 peo­ple killed. Western pow­ers failed Turkey by be­ing back­ward in com­ing for­ward to con­demn the coup d’etat in a Nato mem­ber, which takes in and looks af­ter mil­lions of refugees. This per­haps con­tributed to a be­sieged out­look. In­stead of tak­ing the chance to re­build democ­racy, the strong­man has sought to tighten his grip on power.

Pres­i­dent Er­doğan, who first came to power as a pi­ous rightwing PM in 2003, has grown his con­ser­va­tive re­li­gious base by de­mon­is­ing elec­torates un­likely to back him. How­ever, in the past year, un­der a state of emer­gency, this has taken a more sin­is­ter bent. More than 150,000 peo­ple have faced le­gal ac­tion and 50,000 – in­clud­ing aca­demics, jour­nal­ists, rights ac­tivists and op­po­si­tion MPs – jailed. Un­der th­ese con­di­tions Pres­i­dent Er­doğan held and won a con­sti­tu­tional ref­er­en­dum which would see his of­fice fuse the po­si­tions of head of state, head of gov­ern­ment, and head of the rul­ing party. There would be lit­tle se­ri­ous check on its author­ity.

Politi­cians who claim all re­flec­tion must stop once they have the im­pri­matur they want are of­ten wrong. Pres­i­dent Er­doğan still has to win the Novem­ber 2019 elec­tion. How­ever, his op­po­nents are scat­tered: in pol­i­tics they re­main di­vided be­tween Kur­dish, na­tion­al­ist and leftist groups; in the mil­i­tary, which is in dis­ar­ray; and in the once-pow­er­ful Gülenist move­ment, which had worked with Er­doğan’s AKP to vi­ti­ate the sec­u­lar elite be­fore be­ing cast as a mor­tal en­emy af­ter they fell out, it is claimed, over a cor­rup­tion scan­dal. The Gülenist group is blamed for be­ing be­hind the coup at­tempt. Pun­ish­ment is not an oc­ca­sion to forge a na­tional iden­tity. The pres­i­dent’s ideas for re­cast­ing Turkey are wor­ry­ing for all sorts of rea­sons – not least be­cause they are premised on an act of col­lec­tive vengeance.

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