Turkish Politics

Media control: The biggest threat to fair elections in Turkey

Presidential candidates turkey 2014

There is a presidential election coming up in less than five days, and the winner will most likely be prime minister Erdogan. But there are many reasons why this elections can not be considered fair. Here are my 3 main points of concerns:

1. Erdogan runs as a prime minister

Despite a law that says that a public servant can not run for president, Erdogan still runs for president at the same time as he continues to be prime minister of Turkey. He is and has been using the full power and resources of the state apparatus throughout his campaign, while the oppositions candidates has barely been able to get a banner up – Erdogan is on the other hand everywhere.

2. TRT coverage of the presidential candidates

It is a fact that the majority of the Turkish population do not receive impartial and balanced information about the different candidates. The main news source in Turkey is television, and less than 50% has access to the Internet. Looking at the state channel TRT and their coverage of the campaigns, more or less all time has been spent on Erdogan, despite the fact that the state TV should be impartial. The impact of such an uneven coverage can not be underestimated: The only one that about 50% of the voters in Turkey hear and see is Erdogan.

3. Heavy self-censorship in the media

Media in general covering the presidential candidates very unfairly, and generally avoid to say anything negative about Erdogan, while the opposition candidates are heavily attacked and scrutinised. One example of how this is happening, is that many TV-channels repeatedly goes on discussing the arrests of the police officers recently, without nowadays mentioning the reason why they are arrested: they gathered evidence for corruption within the government. This is symptomatic for how self-censorship shifts the focus of an event and avoid to put the real issue on the table. It is deceiving and effectively manipulate voters into viewing Erdogan as a victim.

I am nervously waiting for Sunday…

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3 questions to Mustafa Altıoklar about his new Gezi film project

Little more than one year has passed since the Gezi protests in Turkey. Mustafa Altıoklar, renowned Turkish film director and one of the medical doctors volunteering during the protests, is now planning to make a film about the events. In short, the film will portray a love story between a female protester and a young man, whose family has ties to the ruling party, AKP. A sort of Romeo and Juliet story, that will also contain real life footage, shot by Mustafa Altıoklar during the protests.

Mustafa Altioklar Gezi protest Film movie

He has already written a script for the movie, and producer Nida Karabol has been assigned to the project.

Now he is reaching out to the public in order to get funding for this film, that is highly controversial in today’s Turkey.

I asked Mustafa Altıoklar three questions about the project. Here are his answers:

First of all, how was the process of writing the script?

Mustafa Altıoklar: Painfull… As I am a medical doctor under my other hat, I treated the wounded as a volunteer doctor in the make-shift infirmary in Gezi Park even as tear gas and rubber bullets were raining down. So, I observed the events in a unique position to tell this story as an insider who witnessed unfolding dramas first hand. I started writing the diaries during the days of the protests and finalised the script soon after the termination of revolts. 90% of the events in the script are true stories, so most script writing job consisted of conjoining them in a meaningful way. This operation took about two months and was painful, since I recalled the tragic events over and over through out the process.

Why reach out to the public for funding?

Mustafa Altıoklar: Firstly, I want to make clear that this is a non-profit venture. All funding will be used in the making of the film and any surplus, as well as proceeds from the film, is to be donated to other non-profit ventures or organisations. Secondly, the current repressive situation in Turkey makes it almost impossible to secure funding for a project that goes against the government’s liking. Media and even businesses feel the autocratic pressure daily and the government, with all forces at its disposal, acts promptly and forcefully at the slightest whiff of public dissent. It is, of course, futile to apply to the Ministry of Culture for support funds for a project like this. Consequently the only way to raise funding for this movie is crowd-funding.

What measures do you think the government will take to stop this film?

Mustafa Altıoklar:  On the 18th of June, just some days ago, the government banned certain subjects to be discussed openly, such as the Roboski massacre, Reyhanli massacre, the 17th December corruption operation, the Soma disaster and ISIS terrorism. So, they may just add another prohibition to shoot this film. They may also send treasury inspectors to dig out pseudo legal issues, or they may send narcotics to disrepute any of the volunteers of the project. They will definitely threaten the providers, supporters and media who publish any news about the project. They may cancel or forbid the locations that we want to film at, and finally they may imprison me to stop filming. We are prepared to handle any of this, including me going to jail. I already made a plan on how to finish the film remotely.

In order to donate to this Gezi film project CLICK HERE!

What Tunisia and Ben Ali taught me about Erdogan’s future

What Tunisia and Ben Ali taught me about Erdogan's future

What Tunisia and Ben Ali taught me about Erdogan’s future

Two weeks after I came home from a touristic travel to Tunisia in early december 2010, the uprising against Ben Ali started. I was surprised, since I had traveled throughout the whole country and talked to many people, not the least students, asking them what feelings they harboured for the man in charge. Except minor complaints about the high unemployment, all they said was positive. Education was free, people were happy. I left the country with a totally wrong perception of Ben Alis popularity. I had been naïve, and the Arab spring came as a surprise to me.

Ben ali Tunisia Erdogan Turkey

Ben ali Tunisia Erdogan Turkey

But I would would fall into the same trap twice…

During my two years in Turkey, before the Gezi protests, politics was something that people smoothly avoided to talk openly about at dinner tables where not all guests where known. Only at closed gathering, in my predominantly secular circles of friends, did some anger and the dissatisfaction with Erdogan’s politics show. But this I only realised in hindsight and I was therefore surprised when the Gezi protests took place and grew to a national phenomenon. I could never have guessed they would occur one week before they started.

I came to draw the conclusion that in an environment, where critical opinions can´t be ventilated on a continuous basis, sudden, unexpected outbursts – such as the Gezi protests and the Arab Spring- will always be the way of change – BY DESIGN.

So, what can this teach us about the future of Erdogan, the feelings about him in his own circles now so celebrating, supporting and free of criticism against him?

Does the silence and acceptance within the AKP mean that no one harbours any criticism towards him?

Most definitely not.
One example: Bulent Arinc is by many looked upon as the reasonable voice of AKP, before so talkative on all issues. Why has he recently been so silent?

And what does the grass roots of the AKP think about the Soma accident where no secularists where victims, but instead people like the ones Erdogan says he is trying to help?

Does people close to Erdogan buy his explanation and his denial of any involvement in the company who manages the mine?

Do the AKP believe in the Robot Lobisi?

I have decided not to fall into the same trap a third time. The AKP keep silent, just like the liberals and the secularistic Turkey did before the Gezi protests, before they had enough, before it all had built up to being just more than they could accept. But I know better now.

I know that that silence harbours more criticism than thousand words are capable of.

Piece by piece Erdogan is building up a heavy pile sh*% that will eventually fall down on him, crush him, bye bye!

 

Why has the world given up on Turkey?

Turkey accession talk cheating elections

I can’t help being surprised of how little that has been reported about the development in Turkey after the elections. Before the Gezi protests, Turkey was perceived as a promising, developing democracy. But now, one year later, Turkey undoubtedly has more similarities with Russia than any European country.

The problem is not only extensive pressure on the media and heavy censorship of the internet. It is not only the fact that judges and prosecutors cant do their job without approval from higher authority – meaning, well, Erdogan. Now, the very core of democracy, the elections, have been taken away as an opportunity for citizens to decide about their country’s future.

After YSK, the board responsible for organising the elections, denied a recount in Ankara, despite a very tight race, and obvious indications of cheating, I have a hard time seeing that things will get better in the short- or even in medium-term. The reason why Turkey will not quickly return to the right track, is because the man in power, Erdogan, have no incentives to steer in that direction. Rather the opposite. He has too much to lose.

Still, the foreign media rather focuses on the strong support that Erdogan still holds, almost baffled by the fact that a politician can be corrupt and still win elections.

In my opinion they should rather focus on the election fraud, and the increasingly impossible situation for the opposition parties. If the elections had been truly fair, it is likely that Turkey would be in a completely different situation at this point. To run a country with the capital belonging to the opposition, is not an easy task. Not the least would the loss of Ankara, also have been perceived as a punishment for corruption and other misdoings.

Maybe western journalists are just generally tired of reporting about a country in which punishment and reward do not follow a western logic.

Or, has Turkey for them just become another of these countries, to which democracy came, before it’s politicians and citizens learned to understand and respect it?

Part 3: Victory?

Erdogan victory akp

The day after the local elections I stood on the sidewalk with my bags waiting for a taxi. I was on my way to a friend where I would stay during my last days in Istanbul. It was clear that AKP had won, even though the votes were still being counted.

After putting my luggage in the backseat, I sat down next to a smiling taxi driver, who immediately, as most strangers asked about my nationality, after wrongly assuming I was from Germany.

The radio was playing loud. Every second minute, parts from Erdogan’s victory speech, in which he promised to crush all his opponents, was aired. Now and then, the radio station also played pieces of the song specially written for the local elections with the simplistic but telling refrain “Reeeecep Taaaaayyip Errrrdooogaaaaan!”

“How is it going in Ankara?” I asked the driver. “Have they counted all the votes yet?”

“AKP won!” he answered while taking his right hand off the steering wheel, raising his thumb up in the air.

“45% percent they got” he continued.

“So what do you think will happen to Fetullah Gülen now?”

He again lifted his right hand from the steering wheel, this time imitating a razor blade cutting against his throat.

“He is finished!” he said.

We continued to talk about other things, but as the taxi came closer to my final destination, I wanted to ask him one last question.

“So, do you think there were any corruption? Do you think Erdogan is corrupt?”

He did an upwards nod.

“No! There is no corruption!” he said with certainty in his voice.

I sat in silence for a while, watching the expression on his face. He looked friendly.

“But…” I started, discretely smiling. “… This is Turkey. Aren’t most politicians corrupt here in some way? The CHP also, I mean.”

His face changed somewhat like he was preparing to say something, but he remained quite.

“Do you really believe he is not corrupt?” I continued and smiled.

At this point his facade broke down.

“You are right. He might be! He might have taken some money” he said almost in a whispering tone.

“So what do you think about that?”

“Well, he is the best we have!” he continued after a while. ”I like him! He is doing great things for people like me!”

As I stepped out of the taxi, grabbed my luggage and said god bye to him, I thought about the fact that AKP has had constant wind in their sails since they came to power in 2002. And when they were faced with their first real challenge, the Gezi protests, they managed to ruin their entire worldwide reputation as a progressive democratic party in less than a couple of weeks. After the corruption allegations, they now only have the poor and uneducated people left to vote for them. This is enough to win the elections under todays political circumstances, but is Erdogan able to provide another ten years of economic success and reforms, that these poor voters hope for?

That is the burning question.

Part 2: Three gentlemen

Three gentlemen Turkey

One day before the elections I went to a classic Turkish fish restaurant together with some friends. The restaurant was located in one of the more wealthy parts of Istanbul. This is an area, where the main opposition party, CHP, always gets a very high percentage of the votes and where people on average aim for a westernised lifestyle.

But this night I would learn, that the political life still had its own distinguished features, specific to Turkish culture.

After ordering a bottle of Rakı – the national drink before AKP replaced it with the non-alcoholic Ayran – and after the first mezes had arrived to the table, I spotted three older men sitting a bit away from us in a corner. They were well-dressed, in suits, and with friendly faces. As our eyes meet, I raised my glass towards them and they saluted back.

“Where are you from? Are you from Germany?” one of the men said in broken English as I passed their table returning from the restroom a bit later.

I answered them and we started to chat. Soon they asked me to sit down with them.

“What do you think about the food? Delicious, isn’t it?” one of the men said.
“Excellent, It was very good. We are waiting for the main course. Do you know the owner?”
“Know the owner!” he exclaimed. “He is the little brother of my childhood friend. We go here all the time. We grew up not far from here.”

As the discussion unavoidably entered in to the area of politics, it turned out that one of the men, was senior local politician, working for the main opposition party, CHP. Glad to make his acquaintance we continued to talk, and after discussing the economic development of Istanbul, my mouth slipped – it must have been the Rakı – and I told them about a idea for a business based in Istanbul.

The politician immediately turned rather serious.

“We should talk” he the said. “We should exchange numbers and meet!”

I looked at the other men and they nodded.

“You should meet him, he can make anything happen” one of them said.

“Everything is possible.” the politician continued. “You can talk to me, and we can make a deal!”

He was saying all this in the way any old and powerful man in Turkey would do. But since he was a politician, there was no doubt about the meaning of his words.

From many friends I knew and heard stories about how knowing the right people, especially within politics and municipality, could mean the difference between bankruptcy and success. If someone within the system saw that your business was successful, they often wanted a cut. They would try to get it by pointing out problems of different kinds, mostly technicalities that at first seemed ridiculous. However, such a situation could quickly grow into a nightmare. Licenses could be withdrawn, deliveries could stop, police could come visit. The solution was always compensative one, meaning money under the table.

What the politician now offered me, was a shortcut. But of course it would not be a free one.

And I came to think: Even though he represented the opposition party, there was, in essence, little difference between him and e.g. Erdogan. They where of the same generation and in terms of attitude to corruption, they were soul mates.

No wonder why the voters did not punish Erdogan for being corrupt!

Part 1: The Taxi Drivers

Taxi in Istanbul

The taxi drivers

A couple of nights before the local election I was out walking. Outside one of the night clubs in the central historical part of Istanbul, where you will find many of the liberal Gezi youngsters partying and drinking, stood a group of taxi drivers, with their yellow cars, waiting for the night club guests to be in need of their services. I could tell, somehow, from the way they looked towards the entrance, that they weren’t happy with what they saw.

“How is business going?” I asked them.

Surprised that I spoke to them in Turkish, they asked where I came from, and after I answered we continued to talk about other things. I suggested that spring had come to Istanbul, they said it had been a warm winter.

After a while I cleared my throat.

“What are you going to vote for in the elections?”

A slightly noticeable discomfort spread among them, they started to look at each other, some turned aside and laughed nervously.

“I am going to vote for AKP” one of the short men, said, “I am voting for Tayyip!”, he continued in a louder voice, looking to the other men for assurance.

“Have you always?”

“Of course!” he exclaimed, like it was the most ignorant question on earth. “There is no one else than Tayyip Erdogan!”

The other men repeated “Tayyip Erdogan” in some sort of mumbly choir and laughed.

“So, You also vote for the AKP?”

“Of course” they all said.

A short moment of silence occurred.

“So, what do you think about the corruption allegations? Are they real?”

The men’s discomfort now became more evident than before, and one of them was just about to open his mouth, when a tall and rather well dressed man suddenly came in front of me.

“We don’t talk about this! AKP is going to win, we gonna vote for them, and Fetullah Gülen will be gone. Thats it!” he said in an aggressive manner.

I took a step back, and if the man had had a more rough look, I would have escaped the scene. But instead I stood silent observing how he seemed to spread fear among the men. He was clearly above them in the pecking order.

“We gonna win on sunday!” he continued now facing the men. “AKP will win! We going to vote! And after that Turkey will continue as usual!”

Then he hastily went away after someone had called on him from another group of taxis a bit away. All of us watched his back in silence as it faded into the night.

“Who was that?” I asked after a while.

“It is our boss!” the short man said. He organizes our taxis, gives us work…”
“From the municipality?” I said.

The short man smiled insecurely.

“Maybe!”

To me, this was a perfect illustration of how freedom of thought and expression in Turkey is a luxury that only can be afforded by the very few who are economically independent. One of the main reasons for AKP’s success is that they have managed to activate the grass roots of the society and make politics out of almost everything in their everyday life. In a society that is almost to an absolute extent already built upon friends, family, and social network, this has become a very efficient way to maintain support and silent opposition among the poor conservative, working people, who is in an overwhelming majority in the country. Especially occupations that in some way is under the government and municipalities control, have quickly turned into professions where only people who agree with the AKP is allowed to enter. This is valid for the professions high up in the hierarchy down to the very bottom, where even workers, are expected to agree with everything the AKP stands for. If you do not agree, you will face problems, likely get fired.

I said goodbye, and the group of men was dispersed. The short man jumped in to his taxi, started the engine and drove slowly towards a waving group of youngsters at the night club’s entrance.

 

 

 

Nothing changed… Or?

2.jpg650

After an even struggle in many of Turkey’s biggest cities, it is clear that little will change in formal terms as a result of the local elections. On average, AKP got about 45 percent of the votes, and kept power in the most important cities of Istanbul and Ankara.

However, the voting process, all the way from the opening of the ballot stations has been lined with incidents indicating unfairness and cheating. Electricity was cut while votes were counted in districts where CHP were expected to achieve a strong support. Ballots giving support to CHP and MHP have been found in trashcans throughout Turkey. In Ankara, ballot guards has been hindered by the police to enter the venues where the ballots were counted. And in some places, still at the writing moment, volunteers are guarding the ballots in districts where votes for CHP are expected to be high, to assure they will not come into hands of AKP officials or the police, before they are being counted by the YSK, the board responsible for counting the votes.

So, to sum it up, AKP has shown little respect for the ballot box that they so much have been praising ever since the Gezi protests.

However, it is still undeniable, that AKP has a very strong support in the country. The reasons for this have previously been discussed in this blog. But in my next post, I will give account for three personal encounters during my visit in Turkey, taking place both before and after the elections, that I think are symbolically important in order to understand the situation and the challenges ahead.

The question is: are people really supporting Erdogan, or are they just being pragmatic?

 

 

 

Electoral fraud cont.

Here are some articles that relate to my previous post about that AKP is planning to rig the elections. This is naturally very worrying…

http://turkishpoliticsupdates.wordpress.com/2014/03/23/biggest-electoral-fraud-ever-to-be-staged-in-turkey/

http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/election-fraud-concern-grows.aspx?pageID=449&nID=63883&NewsCatID=409

http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/ruling-akps-demand-for-list-of-ballot-box-clerks-raises-election-fraud-concerns.aspx?pageID=238&nID=63935&NewsCatID=338

And to cheer you up – here comes my favorite local election poster. In the star on top it says “With us everything will cost 3 TL”. That is pure genius!

Yerel secim poster en komik funny

“With us everything will cost 3 Turkish Lira