Turkish would-be presidential candidate cries foul

Journalist and author Levent Gültekin, who announced he would stand in Turkey’s snap June 24 presidential election, but pulled out after learning he had only five days to collect 100,000 signatures in support, said the polls would be neither free nor fair.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan last month called the presidential and parliamentary elections 17 months ahead of schedule. Whoever wins the presidential polls will take on sweeping executive powers narrowly approved in a referendum last year. Erdoğan’s approval ratings are hovering around 40 percent, but the opposition parties are divided and weak.

“This is not an election,” Gültekin said. “Because if there is an election, we talk about election conditions. If there is a democratic election, if there is ballot box security, if there is media, if there is law, if one party has not been given a monopoly over state resources, and if there is an electoral environment in which candidates can compete on equal grounds, we can call it an election,” he told Ahval in an interview.

“This is not an election. This is a government’s seizure of a country. The other side are struggling to prevent this seizure,” he said.

Gültekin began his journalistic career at Islamist newspaper Yeni Şafak, becoming news editor there before leaving to become editor at Gerçek Hayat magazine. He later managed the television channel Cine5 and now writes for independent news site Diken and appears on alternative broadcaster Mediascope.

To even treat the elections as fair and free is doing the government a favour, he said.

“To create the perception that we are choosing a president, as though the media is free in this election, as though the government is not fully using the resources of the state, as though there is a judiciary, as though the Supreme Electoral Council is completely independent, as though control of the ballot boxes can be achieved, and as though the opposition has the right to freely campaign is to do nothing but butter the bread of the government,” he said.

Gültekin said he decided to pull out of the race once it became clear that he would not have a chance of getting the 100,000 signatures he needed to back his candidacy as an independent in only five days.

Turkey was already a dangerous environment in which people were being fired for their Twitter or Facebook messages, he said, and there was no point in putting people at risk for signing an electoral petition if he would not be able to get the signatures.

“There are dozens of examples of what state a country is left in when it is surrendered to an authoritarian regime,” Gültekin said. “That is why the elections we face are elections that will reveal whether the authoritarian regime in a country will become permanent or not.”

The visit by military Chief of Staff Hulusi Akar to former President Abdullah Gül, apparently to dissuade him from standing against Erdoğan for the presidency, was an example of the uneven playing field, Gültekin said.

“After Chief of Staff Hulusi Akar went (to see Gül), the Nationalist Movement Party Leader Devlet Bahçeli also made an announcement, saying ‘I hope Abdullah Gül takes these warnings seriously’,” he said.

“This is a crystal-clear threat. This is a crystal-clear post-modern coup. The structure of the opposition has been reshaped through a coup.”

Whatever the result on June 25, it would be the result of a coup, Gültekin said, and the only way to solve Turkey’s problems was to take a step back and for people of different political currents to embrace one another.

“If Turkey is to be saved, all groups need to put their past mistakes behind them. This can only happen with the philosophy of an ‘honourable exit’,” he said. “My candidacy was in order to announce this to society. I am talking with my colleagues about how to take it forward.”

Levent Gültekin