The art of elective dictatorship

By Nanomanoman

While the main channels broadcast programmes about penguins and mental health all hell was breaking loose in the city centres, social media once again making up for the shortcomings of the major broadcasters as the streets erupted in protest.

But this wasn’t Libya or Egypt. This was Turkey – NATO member and European Union aspirant.

Here’s another one – which country has the most imprisoned journalists? China? North Korea? Iran? Burma?

Turkey – NATO member and European Union aspirant. At last count, over 100. As the Committee To Protect Journalists puts it:

The authorities are waging one of the world’s biggest anti-press campaigns in recent history. Dozens of writers and editors are in prison, nearly all on terrorism or other anti-state charges. The evidence against them? Their journalism.

Erdogan’s administration uses a mix of hard and soft power to enforce its will: half the journalists are imprisoned under Kurdish terrorism laws, others for insulting a legally ill-defined “Turkishness”.

Then there’s the government’s links to the corporations that control the media companies and the pressure they apply to keep them in line.

Finally there’s the law again: In 2009, the mammoth Dogan group, very critical of the Erdoğan government and close to the old Kemalist and military establishment, was targeted by a crushing tax fine and forced to sell off some of its top media jewels… Another large media group, Sabah, was sold to Calik, a company co-owned by Erdoğan’s son-in-law.

Journalists are cowed. They can’t all be heroes – they’ve got families too. So self-censorship is the rule.

Once Turkey was a beacon for democracy. Now it sets an example of how to manipulate the democratic process – how to be open for business, but close down discussion. Morsi’s Egypt is learning quick – another blogger imprisoned this week. Four times as many prosecutions for “insulting the President” in a year of Brotherhood rule than 30 under Mubarak.

Yet, while his police unleash teargas and plastic bullets on the “looters”, Erdogan, no doubt widely reported by his tame media, urges peaceful protest – wait for the ballot, he says. And he’s right: as in Egypt where the Brotherhood can rely on the poor and uneducated rural block to keep them in power, so too in Turkey.

From Russia to Turkey dictators have learned an important lesson about democracy – that it was one of many “experiments” by Greek oligarchs not to cede but retain power.

We can’t say we weren’t warned: Erdogan himself described democracy as: a bus ride, once I get to my stop I’m getting off.

We call Moscow, Cairo and Ankara “democratically elected” governments but we need to redefine democracy in the modern world to mean more than just a multi-party system: it takes an educated, informed electorate, functional electoral laws (Erdogan recently removed a number of checks and balances) and a genuinely free and effective media.

In the absence of these, Turkey should not be called a democracy – it is an elective dictatorship.

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