Anti-“Insult” crackdowns mounting in Turkey

Turkey has long discouraged free speech that targets (“insults”) public officials, even relatively low-ranking ones. However, the laws also have specifically “protected” the country’s president from insults for nearly a century, extending additional penalties to offenders. Its enforcement, however, rises and falls with the times. It’s getting worse recently, with jokes and poems on social media landing various government opponents and celebrities in prison. The Associated Press reports on the escalation:

There’s no monarch in democratic Turkey — but you might not know it watching the news these days.

It has become as easy to get jailed for offending the country’s paramount leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as it is in countries where lese majeste laws forbid insults to royals.
The law against insulting the president has been on the books for decades and is a legacy of the veneration reserved for Turkey’s founding father, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. But before Erdogan became president, legal analysts say, the law was used far less aggressively. Kerem Altiparkmak, a lecturer on human rights issues at Ankara University’s political science faculty, shared with AP a spreadsheet documenting 43 known cases involving some 80 people in the half-year that Erdogan has been president. That compares to only a handful of cases that were filed during former President Abdullah Gul’s seven-year term.


Queen Elizabeth II, Absolute Monarch

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has a fuzzy grasp of British government, it turns out:

When taking up office he vowed to be an active president who would use his mandate to strengthen what had until then been a largely ceremonial post and to push for the necessary constitutional change that would turn Turkey’s parliamentary system into a presidential one.

On Thursday night, he looked to London for justification, arguing that Britain, a constitutional monarchy in which the Queen is head of state but where the power to make and pass legislation lies with an elected parliament, had much in common with the system he was looking to establish.

“Even England has a semi-presidential system,” Erdogan claimed during a live broadcast on Turkish state television. “The person in charge there is the Queen.”

He went on to slam increasingly widespread criticism of undermining checks and balances in Turkey: “When it comes to the US, to Brazil, South Korea or Mexico, nobody says they are a monarchy. So when Turkey follows a similar idea, why does [a presidential system] here suddenly become a monarchy?”

I don’t why you’re suddenly accused to trying to establish a monarchy. Maybe because of weird statements about how QE2 is “in charge” of “England”?

Recep-Tayyip-ErdoganOr, I suppose, authoritarian crackdowns on the opposition, the media, ethnic minorities; holding power for over a decade and repeatedly trying to amend the constitution to become more powerful; proposing the restoration of the imperial Ottoman alphabet nearly a century after its replacement; insisting that Muslims discovered and colonized the Americas before Columbus landed; and just generally other bizarre and disturbing actions that validate accusations of a “cult of personality” project and that undermine any legitimately impressive domestic policy accomplishments over the years? That might have something to do with the monarchy talk.

The Questions Posed by the World’s 2015 Elections

15 national elections I’m watching on 2015 and the questions I’m asking about them, organized in chronological order.


Greece: Can modern Greek democracy survive the combined effects of years of extraordinary fiscal mismanagement, a devastating recession, and a sudden day of reckoning (austerity) stage-managed from Berlin? That’s the bigger question the world is asking when Greece heads to the polls this coming weekend, behind narrow questions of what might happen in the next six months. Newcomer “Syriza” – a party with moderate rhetoric, yet still an unknown quantity – has led the polling average since November 2013, more than a year before snap elections were called. Syriza could shake things up — for good or ill — in the country whose ancestors founded much of Western democracy. On the other hand, the ancient Greeks also formalized the concepts of “oligarchy,” “aristocracy,” and “tyranny,” so that’s not a huge comfort. Modern Greek democracy is just 40 years old, and Plato might forecast a turn to a less participatory form of The Kyklos (the cycle of governance between such forms) is about due. The rise of the neo-Nazi “Golden Dawn” as a potent force in Greek politics offers that grim path.

Nigeria: Should a young democracy re-elect a civilian president from the same party that has won every election since 1998? Should it do so despite his record of extreme incompetence in handling an insurgency that has now seized more territory than ISIS controls in Africa’s most populous nation and largest economy? What if the alternative choice is a former military dictator and perennial also-ran? These are the basic questions facing Nigerians in February’s election that will see once-accidental President Goodluck Jonathan of the People’s Democratic Party face off against Gen. Muhammadu Buhari at the head of an increasingly powerful opposition coalition and amid plunging oil prices. The legislative chambers are also up for election. Even if Jonathan is re-elected, he may face a hostile majority.

Israel: Can the Israeli left make a serious comeback in the country’s politics after Israel voters increasingly veered to the right and after significant party changes shattered the Labor Party for almost a decade? Would it make any difference to Israel’s relations with its neighbors and the world at large? Would it change the economic fortunes of average Israelis?

United Kingdom: Is the Westminster System — as it has traditionally existed in its tripartite form since the arrival of universal male suffrage — finished in Westminster itself? UKIP, the Scottish National Party, and other parties outside the Big Three make another coalition government of some kind almost a certainty – likely with huge effects for the British populace and their place within the European Union.

Mexico: Will the insulated Federal District finally be shaken out of its slumber by a growing protest movement and other reactions to the total capture of Mexican state and local government by the cartels? The Congress is up for election, but without a sea change in the foreign-focused Peña Nieto administration, few expect serious policy shifts at home, whatever the outcome of the midterms. Still, nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition any more than they expect a spontaneous mass uprising that forces just such a sea change. Could be too early to tell.
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