erdogan

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…

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!

Nothing changed… Or?

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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?

 

 

 

Will the local elections in Turkey be fair?

Will the local elections in Turkey be fair?

Is it all about the ballot box?

The question posed above deserve some thinking. What is a fair election?

Erdogan’s answer would be that it is all about the ballot box, no matter what factors are shaping the final result. In other words, this represents a technical approach to fairness at democratic elections. It is about making sure that people are not hindered to vote for the party of their choice and that their votes are later counted accordingly. However, even Erdogan’s  kind of fairness seems to be under threat in today’s Turkey…

The most worrying fact is that YSK, the powerful organ that organize the elections, is a branch under the judiciary, that is now under the governments control due to the changes of the HSYK that recently was implemented.

In a letter to the European Parliament the liberal democratic leader, Cem Toker, has called the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to send neutral observers to guard the elections. In his letter he refers to an article, giving reasons why everyone should be worried on the 30th of March. One indication of possible cheating is that considerably more ballots than registered voters have been printed. The same was the case in the referendum 2011, and what happened to the ones left then is still unknown. Another indication that points towards cheating in both previous and upcoming elections, is that YSK has been very unwilling to provide transparency in a way that is crucial in a democracy… many things point to them being heavily controlled by the ruling party. Read Cem Toker’s very worrisome article here.

And even beside the technical ballot box aspect, there are many other things pointing towards an unfair election.

This week a report was released showing that 90 percent of the airing time from election campaigns on the state television was devoted to AKP. Only 5 percent of the coverage went to CHP. In addition, there are endless number of examples of how television and media in Turkey are working as propaganda machine for the government, rather than as a provider of information for people to make their own decisions upon. 

Now, remember that TV is the only news source for the big majority of Turks on the country side. Thus, many people are only reached by Erdogan’s version of everything that happens in the country… 

The questions boils down to: would people vote differently if there wasn’t any censorship?

If the answer is yes, can we really talk about fair democratic elections in Turkey at all?

Is Kayseri worried about Erdogan’s corruption?

I came up with the idea of trying to find out where the sound recording between Tayyip Erdogan and his son Bilal were watched the most in Turkey. Where there any districts that stood out?

To learn more about this I use Google Trends. This is a tool that makes it possible to find out the relative amount of searches in Google in the different districts of Turkey. Since the search term “erdoğan ses kaydı” (erdogan sound recording) was the one most commonly used to find the clip, that was also what I used as an indicator. So, where did people search the most for this term?

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The map above is an illustration of the search incidents for the search term reported by Google Trends for the period February 5 – March 4. The same is shown in the first column of the table and in the second column the districts numerical order in population size is shown. This is to give some baseline in order to compare the search frequencies. A high number in the second column thus means that the population is relatively small, and therefore, since it is on the top ten list of searches, it means that the district sticks out with a high incidence of searches.

The most interesting deviations from what population size would predict is found in the districts of Kayseri and Samsun. These are both AKP strongholds. In the 2011 election, AKP got 65% of the votes in Kayseri and about 61% in Samsun. There is also something extra curious with the fact that the district of Kayseri is on this list, since this district is regarded as the one bringing Erdogan to power, because of the support from its many rich businessmen.

Does this mean that Erdogan should be worried? I think so.

2 scenarios: What will happen in Turkey?

What will happen in Turkey?

A poster for an ungoing campaign urging people in general to vote in the coming local elections.

The election campaign leading up to 30th of March is likely going to be the dirtiest in the republic’s modern history. The fight between the AKP and the opposition parties has already passed the point where civilized debate is possible. Ankara’s controversial mayor Melih Gökcek, has even suggested that he might be assassinated during the election campaign. I think that he is not alone worrying that the hateful climate in the country is going to lead to violent clashes, and even planned attempts on politician’s lives. Erdogan has effectively prepared a fertile ground for violence to emerge.

The reason why the tone in the campaign is hateful is that the outcome of the election will drastically influence Turkey’s future. In many ways it is a fight for life and death between the main opposition and Erdogan personally.

Here are two possible scenarios and their short and long term consequences:

1. AK Party gets ABOVE 40% of votes – status quo

In this scenario Erdogan will be able to sell that the population of Turkey agree to his narrative on the corruption probe. It will also continue the winning strike of the AK Party and make his ministers and party members stay loyal to him. Another, and more important consequence of this scenario, is that Erdogan will have plenty of room to continue restructuring the country’s institutions to his own liking. The biggest loser will naturally be democracy in general, and in specifics, the opposition, individuals, companies, newspapers and institutions that have been critical to Erdogan. Without any resistance, and with the full power of the police, the judiciary, MIT etc. behind him, he will  start a witch-hunt for everyone he considers as an opponent to his cause to stay in power. Turkey will quickly develop into a one-party-state, and any return from there will be a very long and slow process.

2. AK Party gets BELOW 40% of the votes – Ankara or Istanbul is lost

A result below 40% will instead be a blow to Erdogan, especially if Istanbul or Ankara is lost to CHP. Erdogan will, however, initially try to sell the election as a victory, pointing to the fact that the party still has a majority of the total votes in Turkey. But eventually discontent will grow, since he won’t be able to stabilize the country and restructure it to his own liking in the same way as before. Especially he will have a hard time to pursue his goal of a presidential system with himself as president. The struggle between AKP and the opposition parties will at the same time become more even, and together with the economic effect of the interest rate-hike in January and the weakening of the lira kicking in, people will get the impression that Erdogan is losing control. It is then  likely that the members of AKP  will start thinking of a future without him as their leader. How long this would take, is impossible to predict, since it depends on how much below 40%  AKP receives in the election.

So, which one of the two scenarios is the most likely?

In one way I am certain that even more incriminating voice recordings of Erdogan is soon to be released. But as I have already pointed out earlier in this blog, a big chunk of the population in Turkey only have access to government-friendly information about what is going on in the country; about 80% of the voters belonging to Erdogan’s core group does not have access to Internet. This group is additionally more occupied with making ends meet than to follow and question political issues they do not fully understand. In order for this group to turn away from Erdogan, something extraordinary has to happen, and I am afraid some files on the Internet are simply not enough.

Only one thing is certain. More political and economical turmoil is unavoidable in the near future!