[Originally published in Hurriyet Daily News, with readers’ comments]
The breaking news of Monday night was truly breaking: Turkey’s Supreme Election Board, or YSK, a board of judges whose job is to oversee the electoral process, had vetoed the candidacy of 12 “independents.” Seven of them were supported by the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP. One of them was the famous Leyla Zana, a Kurdish activist who had spent a decade in prison after being convicted of links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK.
This news created a great reaction and uproar, for the vetoing of these candidates is a clear interference in the upcoming elections on June 12. The “independents” already represent a political line that is disadvantaged because of the 10 percent national election threshold. Now the fact that a dozen of them are taken out of the game by a court decision adds much more to the feelings of discrimination. Not just the Kurds but also all democrats are very, very angry.
But why did the Supreme Election Board take such a step? How could they “veto” some of the candidates?
The answer is actually not too unclear. There is a “Law for Deputy Elections” in Turkey, and Article 11 clearly states: “Those who have been sentenced to a prison term for one year or more, or any heavy prison term, cannot be elected as members of the Turkish Parliament.”
And all of the 12 names that have been vetoed have some sentences in the past. As pro-Kurdish or ultra-leftwing activists, all of them have been given some punishment according to the draconian laws of the Turkish state.
So, it seems that the judges at the YSK simply followed the letter of law. As journalist Fatih Çekirge wrote in daily Hürriyet, one of those judges clearly said: “Let no one be angry at us. We don’t look at this politically. We just look at the law, and the law is very clear.”
This also means, in my view, that the conspiracy theories that have emerged right after the court decision are wrong.
The first of those conspiracy theories was that the incumbent Justice and Development Party, or AKP, was “behind” this decision. BDP leader Selahattin Demirtaş and many anti-AKP voices argued so. But the YSK is not a board of AKP yes-men. Quite the contrary, the same board recently took decisions that infuriated the AKP cadre as well. Besides, the decision does not seem to serve the AKP. Its political impact is most likely to be radicalization in the Kurdish camp and thus more support for the BDP, whose only political rival in the Southeast is none other than the AKP.
The second conspiracy theory, preferred by the more liberal and democrat voices, is that the “deep state” is behind the YSK decision. In order to sabotage the “democratization process,” the reasoning goes, the dark powers that be decided to radicalize the Kurds by enraging them with court decisions.
Yet this theory seems to be based on no evidence, but instead a presumption that is very common in Turkey: that anything with a political consequence has to be the product of a political design. But I prefer to use the famous razor of the William of Occam: If there are visible reasons for explaining phenomena, then there is no need to look for invisible reasons.
And the visible reason for this veto is clear: The age-old authoritarian laws of the Turkish Republic, which puts limits on whom people can choose as their representatives in Parliament. Both the incumbent AKP and other political parties can be blamed for not reforming these laws enough, and giving the judiciary the leverage to have such interference in the political process. But blaming them for foreseeing, let alone designing, this particular veto is unconvincing.
A war at hand?
However, none of this legal rationality should minimize the political irrationality, if not stupidity, of the decision. The YSK decision will only help infuriate the base of the BDP, which is already agitated with a passionate Kurdish nationalism. What is worse is that this move might lead the BDP to boycott the upcoming elections. This would not only be a major flaw in the Turkish democracy, but also a sabotage for the already shy and fragile “peace process” between the state and the PKK forces that the BDP is assumed to represent. The words of Bengi Yıldız, a politician within the BDP ranks, are worrying enough:
“This decision is clearly a decision of war on the Kurds. It is a decision to send the Kurds to the mountains [to become guerillas]. If the rulers of this country have decided for war, then that is just fine. Then the Kurds will fight the war.”
This is a very dangerous psychology. And this is a dangerous moment for Turkish democracy. Politicians might not be responsible for the YSK decision, but they are certainly responsible for doing something about it. First, every legal way should be considered to force the YSK to revise its decision. Secondly, Parliament should consider ways to amend the Law for Deputy Elections, and make those changes applicable to the upcoming elections. Postponing the elections can also be an option.
We just should not allow the draconian laws of “Old Turkey” to put a stain on the new one. If we go to elections under the shadow of this veto, that is what will exactly happen.