Have Turkish Voters Renounced Islamist Dictatorship?

Turkey sees end of single party gov’t as AK Party vote drops significantly – Today’s Zaman

800px-Turkish-flag.svg
By Nevit Dilmen (Image:Turkishflag.jpg) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
After 13 years of domination as a single-party government, the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), which has been receiving growing criticism for pursuing highly divisive, authoritarian and repressive policies, saw a significant erosion of support in Sunday’s election and it failed to secure the 276 seats in the Parliament necessary to continue its single-party rule for another term.

The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party’s (HDP), which opted to run as a party in this election for the first time, rather than fielding independent candidates to circumvent the country’s 10 percent election threshold, managed to pass the barrier, which reduced the number of seats in Parliament that would have otherwise gone to the AK Party. Hence, the establishment of a coalition government is back on Turkey’s agenda after more than a decade.

The unofficial results of the election, which many said was more like a referendum in that would determine the fate and political future of the country – becoming either more authoritarian or denying President Erdoğan the changes he aspires to and curbing his power – indicated that the AK Party received 40.6 percent, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) received 25.3 percent, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) received 16 percent while the HDP, which widened its appeal beyond its core Kurdish vote to center-left and secularist segments disillusioned with Erdoğan, received 12.7 percent of the nationwide vote. These percentages translate into 257 seats for the AK Party, 131 for the CHP, 83 for the MHP and 79 for the HDP.

Sunday’s vote was held amid concerns of vote rigging, prompting more than 50,000 people to sign up to serve as election monitors. The fears were not without reason, as last year’s local elections, held on March 30, were overshadowed by allegations of election fraud due to the discrepancies between the numbers recorded at polling stations and those actually entered into the country’s election authority, the Higher Election Board (YSK), in addition to suspicious power outages taking place across 22 provinces during the vote count.

On Sunday, the mood was tense at some polling stations, particularly in the country’s predominantly Kurdish Southeast, after a bombing on Friday killed two people and wounded at least 200 at an election rally for the HDP, which has been a frequent target of violence in the run-up to the polls.

Read more at Today’s Zaman

Brave New Turkey

Gobierno de Chile [CC BY 3.0 cl (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/cl/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey Gobierno de Chile [CC BY 3.0 cl], via Wikimedia Commons

By Andrew Finkel in The New York Times

ISTANBUL — Freedom House, the democracy watchdog, earlier this year downgraded the Turkish press from being “partly free” to “not free.” Now it may have to create a new category: “not free at all.”

On Sunday, Dec. 14, Turkish police raided the headquarters of Zaman, the country’s most widely circulated daily, and a major television station, taking into custody at least 24 people, including the paper’s editor-in-chief and the station’s director. (The editor has since been released.) They were detained on suspicions of “establishing a terrorist group.” But the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said the raids smacked “of political vengeance.”

A decade ago Recep Tayyip Erdogan, then Turkey’s prime minister, was the most likely candidate to lead the Islamic world. He had managed to keep Turkey out of the 2003 Iraq War, was grooming it for membership in the European Union, and was getting on with economic reform. Ordinary Turks were feeling prosperous, proud and hopeful. So why is the Turkish government now going off the rails when it has been perfectly popular doing the right things?

Today Mr. Erdogan is the president, and his style is in-your-face confrontational. He is revered by enough people to get his party re-elected, but many others loathe him (remember the protests in Gezi Park?), and some of his eccentricities have made him a favorite of headline writers. Like a potentate of some Sacha Baron Cohen parody, he has had a presidential palace with over a thousand rooms built for himself. No one knows how much it cost: The government agency responsible for the construction says the sum is a state secret because its disclosure would damage the economy.

Read more at The New York Times

Either With Us or Against Us

As Turkey’s ruling party consolidates its power, the space for free expression narrows.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan
(By Randam (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

“A militant in the guise of a journalist — a shameless woman. Know your place!” This is how three-term Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan chose to describe Amberin Zaman, the Economist’s longtime Turkey correspondent, during a campaign rally on Aug. 7, just three days before he won the country’s first-ever direct presidential election. Erdogan lashed out at Zaman for having allegedly “insulted” Muslims in an interview with opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu on the 24-hour TV news channel CNN Turk — and she was likewise vilified in the conservative press and aggressively harassed online by Erdogan supporters.

The next day, Enis Berberoglu, editor in chief of Hurriyet, one of the country’s highest-circulating dailies, abruptly resigned. Because Hurriyet is owned by Dogan, the same media group that owns CNN Turk, many doubted that Berberoglu’s move was coincidental. Erdogan went on to win the election with 52 percent of the vote. By the time of his inauguration at the end of August, several journalists at other newspapers had also lost their jobs — for reasons widely regarded as political.

These events followed a pattern that has become disturbingly familiar in recent years. As Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) has grown increasingly entrenched since it first came to power in 2002, the space for free expression has narrowed perceptibly. This trend has been particularly evident over the past 15 months, starting with the protests that began in Istanbul’s Gezi Park and which then swept the country in the summer of 2013, when dozens of journalists were fired or forced to resign after expressing critical viewpoints. Most recently, Turkey’s trouble with press freedom made headlines this weekend when Erdogan denounced the New York Times for, he said, implying that the Turkish state was connected with Islamic State (IS) militants.

In 2013, Turkey remained the world’s top jailer of journalists (followed by Iran and China) for the second year in a row. As of the end of the year there were 40 reporters behind bars — one of several factors that led Freedom House to downgrade the country from “partly free” to “not free” in its 2014 press freedom rankings. Turkey came in 134th out of 197 countries.

Social media has not been spared. In the lead-up to local elections on March 30, the Turkish government shut down Twitter for two weeks and YouTube for 67 days in an effort to suppress the leak of damning wiretapped recordings that surfaced in a police and judicial investigation into government corruption at the highest levels.

“The main problem is that pro-AKP media is not only the dominant media, it’s the obligatory media,” said one Turkish journalist who asked not to be named. “If you’re not with them, you’re against them.”

Read more at Foreign Policy

Inside the Turkish Government’s Propaganda Machine

By Kate O’Sullivan and Laura Benitez Apr 8 2014

A Turkish protest for internet freedom in February. Photos by Charles Emir Richards

“Journalists wanted for international news agency,” read the Guardian job ad. As an editor in an industry where legitimate opportunities are few and far between, you apply for pretty much any full-time job you see, so apply we did. A couple of months later, we arrived in Ankara, Turkey, ready to “write history” as the first international journalists to be welcomed into the Anadolu Agency (AA) family.

We joined the agency in January, supposedly to edit English-language news, but quickly found ourselves becoming English-language spin doctors. The AA’s editorial line on domestic politics—and Syria—was so intently pro-government that we might as well have been writing press releases. Two months into the job, we listened to Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç talking some shit about press freedom from an event at London’s Chatham House, downplaying the number of imprisoned journalists in Turkey. Soon after that, we got the chance to visit London on business. We grabbed it and resigned as soon as we hit UK soil.

Established in 1920, the AA was once a point of national pride. Today, it’s at the end of one of the many sets of strings in the ruling AK Party’s puppet parade. Most of Turkey’s TV stations are heavily influenced by the state, and the few opposition channels can expect to have their licenses revoked at any time or be banned from broadcasting key events, such as live election footage or anything that might detract from how fantastic the government is doing.

For example, Turkey’s media regulator, RTUK, fined the networks that aired footage of last year’s Gezi Park protests. Funnily enough, the watchdog is made up of nine “elected” members nominated by political parties—and the more seats in parliament a faction has, the more influence it possesses.

Media outlets that aren’t being hounded by RTUK can always look forward to direct intervention from Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan himself. In 2009, independent mogul Aydin Dogan’s media group—made up of various newspapers and TV channels, CNN Türk, and a news agency—was fined $2.5 billion for evading taxes. Incidentally, the audit came just after one of the group’s platforms published news on the Lighthouse charity scandal, which saw a German court convict three Turkish businessmen for funnelling $28.3 million into their personal accounts.

In one recent leaked recording, Erdogan is heard asking his former justice minister to ensure that Dogan be punished. Since then, the Dogan empire has been bound and gagged accordingly.

Police crack down on a free speech protest in Istanbul in February.

The international media relies increasingly on local sources when reporting domestic affairs overseas. The Gezi protests aside—which had nearly as many “live blogs” as protesters—much of Turkey’s English-language news came via Today’s Zaman, the largest English-language newspaper in Turkey. The leadership of the Zaman newsgroup is closely linked with the Islamic teacher and international education mogul Fethullah Gulen, a former ally of the AK Party who now lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania.

Read more at VICE

Paris Elects Its First-Ever Female Mayor / Turkey’s Erdogan declares victory in local elections

Paris Elects Its First-Ever Female Mayor

Paris has elected its first-ever female mayor, the Spanish-born Socialist Anne Hidalgo, even as elsewhere in the country more right-wing candidates won their races. Hidalgo received 54.5 per cent of the vote.

Hidalgo promised major investment in housing, transportation, and green spaces, hoping to stay the exodus of middle and working-class families from the city, aiming specifically to create 10,000 new social housing units and 5,000 kindergarten places.

Read more at Gawker

Turkey’s Erdogan declares victory in local elections

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Image attribution: Gobierno de Chile [CC-BY-3.0-cl (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/cl/deed.en)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan declared victory in local polls that had become a referendum on his rule and said he would “enter the lair” of enemies who have accused him of corruption and leaked state secrets, saying “they will pay for this”.

But while Erdogan’s AK Party was well ahead in overall votes after Sunday’s elections, the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) appeared close to seizing the capital, Ankara.

Erdogan, fighting the biggest challenge of his 12-year rule, addressed supporters from a balcony at the AKP headquarters at the end of a long and bitter election campaign in which he has labelled his opponents “terrorists” and an “alliance of evil”.

The harsh tone of his balcony address suggested he felt he now had a mandate for strong action against his enemies. “From tomorrow, there may be some who flee,” he said.

The election campaign has been dominated by a power struggle between Erdogan and a moderate US-based cleric, Fethullah Gulen, whom he accuses of using a network of followers in police and judiciary to fabricate graft accusations in an effort to topple him. Erdogan has purged thousands of police officers and hundreds of judges and prosecutors since anti-graft raids in December targeting businessmen close to him and sons of ministers.

Read more at France 24

Prosecutor Overseeing Turkish Graft Inquiry Is Removed From Case

A departing Turkish minister, Erdogan Bayraktar, waved Thursday as he left his post. He has called on Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to resign.

ISTANBUL — An Istanbul prosecutor who had been overseeing a sprawling corruption investigation of the prime minister’s inner circle was removed from the case on Thursday, in a new sign of a profound power struggle over Turkey’s judiciary and police forces.

The prosecutor, Muammer Akkas, issued a condemnation of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government, accusing it of interfering in the judiciary and preventing him from carrying out his work.

Mr. Akkas said that the government had prevented the police forces from pursuing a new round of suspects in the widening inquiry. Among those suspects, according to several Turkish news media reports, is Mr. Erdogan’s son, whose name was on a summons that was leaked to the press on Thursday evening.

“The judiciary has clearly been pressured,” Mr. Akkas said in a written statement, charging his superiors with “committing a crime” for not carrying out arrest warrants, and saying that suspects had been allowed to “take precautions, flee and tamper with evidence.”

The prosecutor’s removal from the case came a day after the resignations of three ministers whose sons had been implicated. One of them, the environment and urban planning minister, Erdogan Bayraktar, broke precedent by calling for the prime minister to resign, too.

Read more at The New York Times

This is a huge story. Here we have shades of Nixon and Watergate in Turkey. This looks like the beginning of the unraveling of AKP’s power. For those of us who are deeply interested in human history and politics, this seems like one of those unique historic moments. Now would be a good time to start paying close attention.