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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?

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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!

Diyanet – a state within the state

Diyanet – a state within the state

Mehmet Görmez, the president of Diyanet, the ministry of religious affairs.

Erdogan has accused the Gülen movement of forming a state within the state. However, a majority of the Turkish people  believe that this is an exaggeration. About 60 percent of people asked in polls think that Erdogan instead is trying to cover up the corruption within his own government by blaming the Gülen movement.

But something that could be called a state within the state actually exists in Turkey, sponsored with the tax payers money. Its name is Diyanet, The Ministry of Religious Affairs. It serves directly under the prime ministers office.

Ataturk founded Diyanet in 1924 as a replacement for the caliphate, that was managing the religious affairs during the Ottoman era.  Diyanet’s role thus became to support the building and management of mosques and to teach citizens about religion in different ways.

Since AKP came to power in 2002, the size and influence of Diyanet has increased dramatically. Its personnel has doubled to almost 120 000 people, and more than 2000 people from the Diyanet has been positioned within other state ministries, without clear reasons. The ministry’s tone against other religions has also become more harsh; it publishes propaganda books against christianity as one example. 

But the most jaw-dropping thing with this ministry is its budget. During the AKP rule, it has skyrocketed to an astonishing TL 4.6 billion in 2013 and it is going to increase to TL 5.4 billion in 2014.

To get the impression of how much money Diyanet is given each year by the AKP, lets compare its budget to the budgets of other ministries in 2013.

A budget of TL 4.6 billion is:

1.6 times larger than the budget allocated to the Ministry of the Interior

1.8 times larger than the budget allocated to the Ministry of Health

1.9 times larger than the budget allocated to the Ministry of Industry, Science and Technology

2.4 times larger than the budget allocated to the Ministry of Environment and Urban Planning

2.9 times larger than the budget allocated to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs

3.4 times larger than the budget allocated to the Ministry of Economy

4.6 times larger than the budget allocated to MIT – Secret Services

How this enormous amount of money is spent is far from known. In 2009 it was reported that only  TL 3 million went to support the building of mosques. The rest seem to be put into religious education, religious services towards families and providing each mosque with an Imam. But its hard to find any reason how this can add up to TL 5.4 billion. If you don’t consider corruption, that is.

In short, Diyanet is a discriminative, religious institution, employing 120 000 people with a jaw-dropping budget that is not properly accounted for.

From my point of view it is the closest you can come a state within the state in Turkey.

Leaked voice recording proves Erdogan’s grip on Turkish media

A voice recording between prime minister Tayyip Erdogan and Mehmet Fatih Saraç, the deputy chairman of the Ciner Media Group, that owns the TV channel Haberturk, was published on Youtube yesterday. It is direct proof that Erdogan personally intervenes to control the media in Turkey.

The conversation took place on the 4th of June 2013, in the middle of the Gezi protests. At the time of the conversation, Erdogan is in Morocco watching Haberturk. He is upset because the channel is broadcasting a news ticker informing of a speech where the opposition party leader, Bahçeli, is calling for President, Abdullah Gül to interfere in the situation (i.e. to override Erdogan). Erdogan orders Saraç to take the ticker out of broadcast. Saraç sounds scared, nervously repeating that he is going to take care of the situation immediately.

Here comes my own rough translation of the conversation (based on a original transcript in Turkish taken from Bugün):

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan: Fatih, look, right now I…

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: Yes, Mr. Prime minister

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan: I am here in Marocco watching TV…

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: Yes, Sir!

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan: … all of Bahceli’s talk is shown and now, the talk is also running as a text below.

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: Got it, Sir! Right now! Ok!

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan: And in Bahceli’s written text it says that the presidents first responsibility is being in meetings, but additional to these meetings he should take care of the situation…

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: I got it, Sir!

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan: … through these meetings he should take steps to bring peace to the country

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: Ok Sir!

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan: I mean Bahceli said this, and it is constantly going as a text on the TV

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: Ok sir! Got it sir! Right now sir!

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan: You say you understand, but my god, why do I need to call you about something like this?

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: Ok, your order, Sir! I got it!

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan:  Right now… It has to be done!

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: I am doing it right now, Sir!

After this conversation, the video above includes voice recordings in which you can hear Saraç calling other people to have the ticker being taken out of broadcast on the prime minister’s order!

Why is Erdogan still popular?

The latest polls show that even though the support for Erdogan’s government has weakened, it is still strong enough to make him come out relatively unharmed in the local elections 30th of March  this year.

To understand why Erdogan is still popular, it is important to understand some facts about Turkey and  Erdogan’s core voters.

Since the dawn of the Turkish Republic, there has been corruption in the country’s politics. I would even go as far as saying that corruption is a part of the culture. It can be seen in the way business is done on the level of neighbourhoods, just as it is seen in national politics. Close informal relations and a sharing of success with close family and friends are normal and in some way accepted. Especially among the conservative part of the population where most of Erdogan’s votes come from.

Thus, many people expect politicians to be corrupted, and that’s why they do not immediately take away their votes from AKP.

Another factor is probably access to information. Many of Erdogan’s voters belong to the about 50 percent of the population that does not have access to Internet. They are on average poor and with low education. News would be obtained by pro-government newspapers such as Yeni Safak, and Sabah, plus teve channels, of which the big majority are also pro-government. To get an impression of how they report, just visit Sabah in English by clicking here. It’s basically propaganda! Critical newspapers such as Sözcu, is primarily sold in the big cities.

However, let’s for the arguments sake say that a conservative and religious voter would decide not to vote for AKP. What party would they then vote for?

Voting for CHP, with their close ties to the old military regime and their emphasis on secularism would be unthinkable for many of them. Voting for MHP, would also be complicated, even though they historically adopted a softer stance on religion.

The lack of alternatives for this group of voters is obvious. On top of that, Erdogan has over the years become a strong symbol for them, which also contributes to their unwillingness to give up on him.

Many therefore agree that the only reason this group would take away their votes from AK Party, would for personal economic ones. Since the Gezi protests the Turkish Lira has depreciated against the dollar with about 30%, whereof more than half has occurred since the 17th of December. It’s implications on the domestic economy is starting to be more and more visible.

The only question is:

Will the effect be felt by AKP’s core voters before the elections?

Why is Erdogan still popular?

It is all about the money!

Erdogan’s twist a’la turka

Erdogan's twist a'la turka

Fatih Mayor Mustafa Demir was among the AKP politicians arrested on the 17th of December 2013.

In this post I would like to make two things clear regarding what happened in Turkey the 17th of December 2013. My mayor points are marked in bold.

First, let me state that corruption is widespread among Turkish politicians.

All Turks know it. And especially they know that Erdogan’s government is corrupt. If someone would tell you otherwise, it is a Turkish way of saying: Ok, he is corrupt but I still support him, I accept that he takes bribes because all politicians do.

Thus, what surprised people on the 17th of December, was not that they found out about corruption within the government, but that prosecutors and the police did something about it.

Erdogan’s way of dealing with the graft probe has famously been to blame the Islamic scholar Fetullah Gülen for having ordered it against his government.

I will admit that Erdogan probably has a point about the loyal followers of Fetullah Gülen in the state system, that they might be somehow influenced by the Islamic scholar’s opinions. But Erdogan’s twist of this reality should be clearly understood:

Any crime that this “gang within the state” might have committed took place during the years before 2013, when they did not investigate the government’s corruption, despite clear evidence of it.

(e.g. read this article about how the corruption in the municipal district of Fatih in Istanbul was discovered.)

Thus, Erdogan has fired and replaced hundreds of police officers and prosecutors, not because they where doing anything wrong, but because they started to do things right!

It can only be described as a twist a’la turka!