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.
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.