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Journalist Aydintasbas: You can’t initiate a referendum in a state of emergency

Asli Aydintasbas’ column on Cumhuriyet, Jan 26, 2017

Nowadays, everyone talks about the movie “No.” The movie is about the referendum in Chile that Augusto Pinochet initiated to extend his term for 8 more years in 1988. It tells the story of a team led by a creative marketer that campaigned for “No” and faced the entire government and state apparatus that was mobilized for a “Yes.” They based their “No” campaign not on fear, tears or blood but rather they lead their campaign on lighter and brighter themes and despite all the obstacles put in their way by the military junta, they succeed in winning the referendum.

The movie was made in 2002 and is really exciting. The end of a dark regime comes to an end with the effort of a few brave and creative souls, thus giving birth to a new and democratic country.

Yet, Chile is the exception, because in oppressive regimes opposition campaigns such as this one rarely succeed. Authoritarian regimes, always find new tools and ways to survive and there are countless examples of this.

The mubarak regime won every election with more than 80% of the votes. The Saddam regime with more than 90% of the votes. Putin, who has all media outlets under his control, despite claims of voter fraud won every election with 60% of the vote. Authoritarian regimes succeed in getting themselves elected proportionally with the oppression they exert on their citizens. Long story short, once a regime moves away from basic democratic norms such as the separation of powers and takes control of the judiciary, it becomes easier for it to win elections. We all know that the 12th of september junta oppressed people and was later remembered with hatred. Yet, it succeeded in passing the constitutional referrnedum with a 91% approval rate.

This is the way things work: the more a country becomes autocratic, the more elections become a formality. Even if there were hundreds of elections in Egypt, all of them would’ve been won by Mubarak. And now, Sisi is winning all of them.

So where does Turkey stand in this equation? Turkey is not as oppressive as the Saddam, or Mubarak regimes. However, it is also not a free and democratic country. It is somewhere in between. Probably, it is closer to Russia, Iran and Argentina.

This means that you are free only at the ballot box. The rest is all restricted. According to Freedom house Turkey is just “partly free”

This is why we don’t need to be “optimistic” or “pessimistic” or make assumptions about the result of the referendum.

There is only one criteria that we should be looking at, the position of Turkey on the “democratic scale.”

The rule on that scale is simple. You can’t initiate a referendum in a state of emergency. You can have neither elections nor referendums when you don’t have an independent judiciary, when the functions of the parliament are partially suspended and even less when the leaders of the third biggest party in the parliament are jailed.

This is a principle that is as clear as 2+2=4

So, naturally, I am not curious about the findings of the owners of polling firms who have time and time again been wrong. It is all just a play. I am also not curious about the meaningless declarations of soccer players or artists. I am looking at the governance and the present structure of Turkey.

Is there fair and just competition. Is there democracy? How strong are democratic institutions?

Anyways, you understood what I meant.

Translated by Denizalp Goktas

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