COMMENT Whilst the world over is taking the path towards democratisation, there are two distinctive leaders who are taking their nations down the opposite path. Even with extremists and bigoted political leaders gaining grounds all over the world, in their opportunistic attempts to polarise and radicalise, Turkey and Malaysia have shown the world that the most effective path to autocracy is through ‘managing and manipulating’ democracy.
Much like the Malaysian PM on the international circuit, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was once praised as a role model for leaders of emerging Muslim-majority nations due to several initiatives early during his term as prime minister. Today, Erdogan enjoys a reputation far from the democratic, reformist and progressive one he once held among the international community.
The similarities between the leaderships of these two - what used to be - shining hopes of Muslim Democracy - started coming to my attention earlier this year (February and March 2016). Both the Malaysian and the Turkish regime, within 10 days of each other, shut down media outlets that reported unflattering facts about their leaders.
The Malaysian Insider (TMI) closure saga was played out almost the same in Turkey, but for Zaman, the largest pro-opposition newspaper. When peaceful demonstrators marched to protest its closure, the authorities’ answer was water cannon and tear gas. Granted, no one protested the closure of TMI, but the memories of water cannon and tear gas during Bersih 1,2 and 3 need no reminder.
Also like Umno, Erdogan’s AKP (Justice and Development Party - Turkish: Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi) government regularly undergo crises including corruption scandals, accusations of media intimidation, as well as the pursuit of an increasingly polarising political agenda along ethnic lines; inciting political hatred throughout the country.
A couple of years back, fifty-plus AKP-connected individuals were arrested for a massive money-laundering scheme. Following from that, an audio clip of Erdogan telling his son to get rid of tens of millions of corruption dollars was leaked on YouTube, which kicked off the latest ‘season of scandal’ for Erdogan and Turkey. Which, is a mere pittance compared to Najib Abdul Razak’s and BN’s 1MDB and RM4.2 billion ‘Saudi donation’.
What Erdogan does beat his Malaysian counterpart in however, is in other fields of autocratisation. Erdogan today, after his ascension to the republic’s presidency, is speedily taking the Turkish state towards a one-man system. Erdogan and his party - the Turkish oligarchy - entrenched by the most polarising form of nationalism, is carrying out destruction, annihilation and looting in Kurdistan in order to preserve its colonialistic agenda.
In order to achieve this dirty objective, Erdogan initiated a comprehensive war in Kurdistan on July 2015. First, he ceased the peace process between the Turkish state and PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party - Kurdish: Partiya Karkerên Kurdistanê ) and isolated its leader Abdullah Ocalan.
Very soon after, he attacked the people with suicide attacks on what was widely alleged as a joint AKP-IS operation. In these attacks, five people were killed in Diyarbakir, 33 people in Suruc, and 100 people in Ankara; at least a total of 929 people were wounded in all three attacks.
For months now curfews have been declared in several towns and cities across Kurdistan. Kurdish towns such as Cizre, Silopi and Sur in the city of Amed (Diyarbakir) have been almost completely destroyed. In Cizre alone, 120 civilians were burnt alive in a basement (this has been documented by the UN, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International).
The same things are now occurring in Nusaybin, Yuksekova and Sirnak. All Kurdish towns are under the attack of the Turkish army on a daily basis. Until now, a total of 800 civilians (mostly women and children) have been killed in these towns and cities by the Turkish regime.
Najib is yet to engage in war-waging or military actions as of yet. However, in terms of stifling and persecuting political opponents and critics through strong arm politics, Each can give the other a good run for the other’s money.
Currently, Erdogan is targeting elected parliamentarians who stand in the way of his dictatorial ambitions. His goal of abolishing the parliamentary system is now ever closer. Whilst Najib and his coterie much prefer to put political opponents through the judicial system to maximise the negative publicity towards the victim through a state-controlled media, ultimately sending them to prison; Erdogan applies a much more simplistic approach.
Either way, both apply the common tactic of persecution by prosecution.
Erdogan has long been plotting for an absolutist presidential system. He himself has called Turkey’s parliamentary democracy “de facto over”. He has been strategically planning a move to wipe out all his political opponents.
Encouragingly, the imposition of 10 percent election threshold to get into parliament, mass arrest and imprisonment of thousands of opposition party members and electorate, hundreds of physical attacks on opposition offices, and constant criminalisation and scapegoating; the Erdogan regime failed to prevent opposition from entering the parliament in the elections last year.
From 2013 to 2015, The Turkish Parliament’s third largest party, the HDP (The Peoples' Democratic Party - Turkish: Halklarin Demokratik Partisi) participated in peace negotiations with the AKP government on behalf of PKK. For this, the legislative immunities of the HDP legislators were selectively removed by a strongly whipped parliament.
Erdogan did so with the help of the representatives of Turkish state nationalism: AKP, the MHP (Nationalist Action Party - Turkish: Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi) and some members of CHP (Republican People's Party - Turkish: Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi). This was the maturation of a plot to get closer to Erdogan’s dream of an absolutist presidency, and HDP was the right victim at the wrong place at the wrong time. HDP MPs are now as as good as waiting to go to prison.
Najib’s grand plan
Some Malaysians who supports Democracy, justice and the Malaysian opposition might breath a sigh of relief in view of Malaysia’s comparative and relatively ‘less autocratic’ circumstances.
Well, think again. Najib’s grand plan to allegedly poison Malaysian democracy to a slow and silent death has long been under way. All the charges, arrests, and eventual conviction of opposition politicians is to what end, if not to deprive the opposition of leaders and leadership; when many among us will be thrown into jail for the most ridiculous of things.
I chaired my first IUSY presidium as president in Vienna over the weekend. It was a long two days of very complex discussions on the most salient political situations around the globe, and how it impacts the people, especially the youths of the respective nations and regions. The above are but some - among many others - of the thoughts that kept distracting me from being able to concentrate of the macro-global view that I was supposed to take.
And no, there is no warm and fuzzy feel-good conclusion to this. Malaysia and Turkey, Erdogan and Najib, Umno and AKP must not be allowed to continue in their agenda to maintain power, and hoodwink the international community. Both nations are diverging away from democracy, and converging towards autocracy; both are doing it under the charade and perverted versions of religion, patriotism and democracy.
HOWARD LEE CHUAN HOW is the Pasir Pinji assemblyperson, DAP Socialist Youth (Dapsy) international secretary, Perak Dapsy chief and International Union of Socialist Youth (IUSY) president.