Turkey’s leadership showed us this week how to call yourself a democracy and steal an election all at the same time. It was so perfectly choreographed that some of us didn’t even realise that the election was a case study in democratic fraud. The best way to illustrate how this election heist took place, is to imagine that the same circumstances were underway in South Africa, and ask ourselves whether we would call that ‘democracy in action.’
To replicate the current conditions in Turkey, President Cyril Ramaphosa would need to shut down 80 per cent of the independent media in South Africa. That would mean that Independent Media, Tiso Blackstar, Naspers, and ENCA would all be taken over by the state, which would then control the narrative. This is what has happened in Turkey, with 80 percent of independent media having been shut down or taken over by the state, leaving most newspapers to tout the same pro-government headlines in the recent election campaign. In Turkey, the last independent media consortium – Dogan Media – was allegedly sold to one of the President’s cronies just before the election.
To draw equivalence, Ramaphosa would also have to have 245 journalists in jail, with another 140 facing outstanding arrest warrants – as is the case in Turkey.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan enjoyed his 181 hours of airtime during the election campaign. Imagine if Ramaphosa ended next year’s election campaign having secured 181 hours of airtime, the Democratic Alliance only 15 hours, and the IFP a mere three hours, as was the situation for Turkey’s opposition parties.
As if that is not extreme enough, just imagine if Ramaphosa had already detained one of the important opposition leaders in South Africa 20 months before the national elections on trumped up terrorism charges. That would be the equivalent of the Commander in Chief of the EFF being in pre-trial detention 20 months after his arrest, whereby he has to lead his election campaign from his jail cell on twitter.
In Turkey that opposition figure is Kurdish leader Selahattin Demirtas, who has still not been tried for any crime, but has been put out of commission and was given a total of 30 minutes of national airtime for the entire election campaign. Despite his incarceration, Demirtas’s party the HDP managed to secure 11.7 percent of the vote in Turkey.
Perhaps most preposterous is the fact that the elections in Turkey took place under a State of Emergency, whereby the state could interfere with opposition election rallies, limit public gatherings, along with a host of other draconian provisions. How convenient that Erdogan promised to lift the state of emergency only if he were re-elected. The UN and the Council of Europe criticised this state of affairs, with the UN saying that elections under a state of emergency are not reliable. Even the Trump administration weighed in saying that “During a State of Emergency it would be difficult to hold free, fair, and transparent elections.”
Can you imagine what Julius Malema would say if Ramaphosa decided to change the electoral rules to his advantage, placing our Independent Electoral Commission under his direct control, as well as the judiciary? Erdogan did exactly that, ensuring that the Supreme Electoral Council and judiciary are under his control. Most importantly in terms of carrying out electoral fraud, Erdogan changed the rules so that political parties no longer nominated candidates to oversee the voting and counting at the polls, but instead ruling party officials took over this responsibility.
Could we ever imagine a situation where our political parties no longer had any role in ensuring that our elections are free and fair by overseeing the voting process? There would likely be blood on the floor first. To add to the farce, ballots in Turkey’s election this week no longer needed to be stamped with the election commission’s official stamp. The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which had election observers on the ground in Turkey, declared that this week’s elections were not fair.
Democracy is more than exercising one’s right to vote, but it is the transparency and freedom of the process which makes it a true reflection of the peoples’ will. What has turned out to be a less than democratic process in Turkey has now concretised an authoritarian Presidential system. Erdogan will now appoint ministers to his cabinet who no longer have to be members of parliament, he can issue decrees, and parliament will be little more than a rubber stamp for his dictates.
Considering that Erdogan is in a coalition with the fascist MHP party is even more ominous in terms of Turkey’s future trajectory. Erdogan’s governing partner Devlet Bahceli, leader of the MHP, said this week that his party’s performance in the elections is an historic success, which is part of a larger global surge in fascism. Cry the beloved country, as the people of Turkey have monumental challenges ahead.
Shannon Ebrahim is the Group Foreign Editor for the Independent Media Group