Saturday,18 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1246, (14 - 20 May 2015)
Saturday,18 August, 2018
Issue 1246, (14 - 20 May 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Erdogan to rule or die

With parliamentary elections just around the corner, Recep Tayyip Erdogan appears more determined than ever to put his stamp in everything in Turkey, writes Sayed Abdel-Meguid

Al-Ahram Weekly

The editorial staff of a Turkish daily could not believe their ears at first when one of their reporters submitted a story he swore was true. The newspaper blazoned the good news to its readers: “Erdogan will not appear on television today!” Beneath the headline it reported that on Wednesday last, Turkey would enjoy a happy surprise, namely that “the president will not inaugurate a project he has previously inaugurated and follow this with a press conference that he will use to promote the ruling Justice and Development Party” ahead of 7 June parliamentary elections. The reporter went on to express his gratitude to the president of Northern Cyprus, Mustafa Akinci, whose visit to Turkey that day helped provide a one-day respite from Erdogan’s TV appearances.

The fact is that the nearly 92-year-old Turkish republic has never experienced such a propaganda phenomenon. From all directions satellite and terrestrial television, state and private networks, printed media, billboards and posters in the major streets and squares of city town and village people are assaulted with a constant barrage of images featuring at their very centre Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

But Erdogan is not just ubiquitous, as fascist leaders tend to be. Although he is constitutionally bound to perform his presidential duties without bias, he has taken advantage of every public appearance to lash out harshly and unjustly at opposition leaders. With parliamentary elections just around the corner, opposition parties are understandably outraged. Needless to say, they do not receive anywhere near an equal amount of space in the national media which, presumably, is the property of the Turkish people.

In spite of the politicisation of the judiciary and mounting public dissatisfaction with it, as Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan himself admitted, there is no alternative but to pursue the bias through the courts, as the Milliyet observed. Accordingly, Senal Sarihan, lawyer for the opposition Republican People’s Party (RPP), filed a lawsuit against the state-run Turkish Radio and Television Company (TRT) for its refusal to broadcast a pre-paid commercial for the RPP and for its arbitrary interventions against anything it deems unfavourable to the ruling party.

Sarihan, in her suit, explained that the RPP, as part of its parliamentary election campaign, had prepared a television spot entitled, “We applaud as one nation.” The film urged the people to stand united against corruption, discrimination and inequality, and to respect and protect the secularist principles of the nation. Although there was no disparagement or defamation against any person or group, the TRT refused to air the ad, she said, adding that this decision on the part of television channel was entirely arbitrary and violated legal provisions requiring it to remain impartial.

Opposition parties also tried to turn to the Supreme Election Board, urging it to remind the president that he was no longer the prime minister and head of a political party and that the constitution and his oath of office obliged him to remain impartial. The Supreme Election Board rejected the appeal, which had been filed by the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), claiming that it did not have the authority to caution or notify the president. This leaves the Supreme Constitutional Court as the only option.

Erdogan, of course, is indifferent to all objections. The forthcoming parliamentary elections are the be all and end all to him and he is determined to use every means at his disposal to secure votes for him and the party he founded. Behind him stands a very powerful lobby of vested interests that permeates every aspect of life in Anatolia and that exploits the religious sentiments of ordinary Turkish people. A revealing incident in this regard just occurred in advance of a presidential visit to the German city of Karlsruhe where he staged a campaign rally for his party on Sunday. According to Yurt newspaper, the Turkish Islamic Federation explicitly instructed the imams of mosques in Germany to read out a Friday sermon prepared by the Organisation for Religious Affairs urging “the faithful” to attend the presidential rally. At least one imam in Germany refused to obey the instructions. The imam of the Bavarian mosque accused the Turkish Organisation for Religious Affairs of mixing religion with politics and exploiting Islam and the Quran in order to obtain votes.

As Erdogan is touring on the government’s tab, which he claims is his natural right, he spares no expense. Bugün reports that his recent trips cost the treasury some 10 billion Turkish Lira ($4 billion). But there was no reason to worry, the newspaper added, as all these expenses would be recovered from Turkish citizens after the elections in the form of taxes.

But will this massive propaganda drive be enough to ensure a resounding victory for Erdogan’s party?

Undoubtedly not. Which is why many quarters believe that the JDP, which knows from opinion polls that its popularity is declining, is putting other plans into effect. According to some sources, certain instructions are to be delivered to public school directors who will be supervising the ballot boxes and the tallying of votes. In preparation for this, school directors from parties other than the ruling JDP have been dismissed. In addition, in blatant violation of the electoral law, and as the Supreme Election Board looked on without saying a word, JDP officials convened a large meeting with electoral ward officials. So clearly something is being cooked up in the manner of the recipes that adjusted the results of the municipal elections in March 2014.

In this regard, a survey published 7 May reports that a considerable majority of Turkish voters expect the government to rig the polls. The study, “Turkish public opinion dynamics ahead of the June 2015 elections,” conducted by the Open Society Institute, Koç University and Ohio State University, found that 77 per cent of voters oppose the government and do not expect that the elections will be fair, and that 73 per cent of voters do not approve of the presidential system Erdogan is bent on imposing in his name.

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