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Paying a Price for Democracy

Paying a Price for Democracy

Despite their great significance for democracies, elections are not an existential element of democratic governance.

In the absence of supremacy of law, principle of equality, institutions and, of course, norms and values, elections alone cannot suffice to deem a country democratic. Was Saddam’s Iraq of yesterday, or are Iran, Syria, Azerbaijan and Russia of today, be shown as examples of democracy?

Irrespective of whether we like it or not, Turkey has some serious problems regarding norms and values of democratic governance. Separation of powers, for example, has become rather questionable as checks and balances of the executive presidential system remains elusive. Independence of judiciary has been a constant complaint of the critics as well as international society. Can we indeed conform with the international independence of judiciary norms the way judges and prosecutors are appointed nowadays? There are, of course, transitional problems that many people sincerely hope will be sorted out and eradicated in due course, provided, of course that there is a sincere and honest quest for a democratic, transparent, accountable and democratic governance.

The fundamental principle that must be considered in democratic elections, of course, should be how to safeguard the equality of all candidates. If one of the candidates, or a political party, enjoys public resources that other candidates, or parties, have no access to, it becomes very difficult to claim elections held under such conditions to be sufficiently just and fair. Such problems cannot be confined to Turkey.

Of course, there is a price to be paid for democratic governance. That price, however, cannot be a revanchist punishment of the opponent. Throwing in front of the public the dirty laundry of the opponents cannot be considered an issue peculiar to any country. The sex tapes, audio confessions of graft and such issues might be considered “attractive” details of an election campaign period, but they are also issues that the judiciary of the country should look into. If anyone is involved in graft or inappropriate behavior, they must be accountable for the alleged crime. They, at least, must be given the chance to face the accusations in a court of law and get a “clean” verdict if not guilty.

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Elections are important. Governance of a country -or a city, cannot be left solely to the outcome of an election. Norms, rules, regulations, principles and, of course, institutions of democracy are all important. If and when a candidate is attacked with some accusations of irregularity of any sort, the claims must be taken very seriously. Particularly if a leading candidate for the seat of the capital city of a country is accused of blackmail, graft, nepotism and such issues, the situation becomes very serious. After all such alleged dirty laundry is spilled all over, a probe against such a candidate, therefore, cannot be considered abnormal.

Can that be considered paying a price for being a candidate? However, if the alleged dirty laundry is shoveled around by the other candidate, or his supporters, and then taken up by the court, we may say indeed that irrespective of how insane it might sound, the president might be right in stressing that winning an election might compel one to pay a price. Particularly after the threat issued against a political party leader that was not a deputy and had no judicial immunity they might pay for criticizing the president, it becomes all the more difficult to say there is respect to independence of judiciary.

The problem with the executive presidency, which gets worse with a president having organic links to a political party, might be the erosion such a development might lead to at key institutions of the country, including the presidency itself.

What is more worrisome is the fact that we no longer consider such developments as serious enough to be concerned with.

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About The Author

Yusuf Kanli

Born in Cyprus in 1959, Yusuf Kanlı is a graduate of the English Language and Literature Department of the Faculty of Letters of the Ankara University. He started journalism with the Turkish Daily News in 1978. Until he briefly left the paper in 1985 (for military service in Northern Cyprus) he served as diplomatic correspondent, assistant foreign news editor and assistant editor. During this period he was as well one of the two co-authors of an annual reference book on Turkey, “Turkey Almanac”. After completing his military service he returned the Daily News as assistant editor. In 1989 he became executive editor and also started writing daily opinion articles. He continued to be one of the co-authors of the “Turkey Almanac” annual reference book. In February 1993, over differences with the publisher on editorial policy, he quit the paper and joined the Anatolia News Agency (AA) as deputy foreign news chief. He stayed with the Anatolia News Agency until September 1995. In this period, he covered the Armenia-Azerbaijan war over Nogorno-Karabagh, covered developments in the post-independence Central Asian republics. Because of his refusal as the duty editor to run a manipulated news story demanded by the then lady prime minister of the country, he was fired from the AA, a development that Kanlı considers as his “medal of honor” in the profession. On his return to the Daily News for a third time in October 1995, he first became an editor at large but soon assumed the responsibility of electronic publishing and established Turkey’s first daily updated English language news web site, the TDN Online on May 19, 1996 (now In January 1997, he became executive editor of the Daily News for a second time and stayed in that post until he was appointed as editor-in-chief in June 2004. In February 2007, he quit all executive duties and became a contract columnist of the newspaper. He has been also writing weekly articles in Turkish for a variety of newspapers and news portals in Northern Cyprus. He is a former chairperson and the honorary chairperson of Diplomacy Correspondents Association (DMD) of Turkey, an active member of Association of Foreign Policy Council, a member of the executive board and vice chairperson of the Association of Journalists and coordinator of the Press for Freedom project, which has been monitoring and reporting on press and freedom of expression issues in Turkey since 2013. He has been a member of several associations and foundations, mostly established by Turkish Cypriots living in Turkey or abroad. He is married to Dr. Aydan Kanlı and has one daughter, Cansu. He has Turkish, Turkish Cypriot and Cypriot triple nationality.

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