13 May 2019 14:00

Associate Professor Dr Murat Sevinç: We’re witnessing the most surreal story in the history of the Turkey

If we are to use the word “threshold,” yes, a further massive threshold has been crossed. The nonsense of “exploratory talks” was the first. This is the second and more abrupt situation.

Associate Professor Dr Murat Sevinç


Serpil İLGÜN

The Istanbul election, declared “tarnished,” was annulled under the Supreme Election Council (SEC)’s ruling on 6 May, shattering the conviction that it couldn’t be done however much it was wanted. Previously declaring the election result to be a “ballot box coup,” the ruling block has conversely described the annulment ruling as “democracy’s victory.”

The rejection of opposition applications made on the same grounds, hunting down voters to the accompaniment of thousands of police officers, determining electoral preferences from voters’ surnames, constant recounts despite the result not changing, the AKP being in the lead at the ballot boxes where 19,000 ballot box committees served that are alleged to have influenced the result, the ousting of those voted in who had been victims of decrees with the force of law, the resistance shown to granting certificates of election, not just in İstanbul, but in Diyarbakır, Mardin and Van…

Much more was experienced over the past month’s intense effort to cancel the election, no stage of which was marked by concern to make the objections legally compliant.

This matter has also contributed in no small part to the crossing of a threshold in which astonishment along the lines of, “How can this be?” or “This takes the cake” has taken hold among ruling block voters, too.

In this week’s Saturday conversation, we have addressed the question of “How can this be?” made hotter by the election annulment to Associate Professor Dr Murat Sevinç, with additional attention to the kind of political, economic and social results the SEC ruling will produce.

Murat Sevinç, who was ousted from his post as Constitutional Law Faculty Member at Ankara University Faculty of Political Sciences under a decree with the force of law, fits the bill when looking for a competent and creative figure in the academic world to field these questions. Sevinç, following his books “Parliamentarians’ Immunity,” “Turkey’s Constitutional Examination” and (together with Dinçer Demirkent) “Foundation’s Neglected Exception – the 1921 Constitution and Records,” regaled readers last year with his book of stories titled “Hey, Waiter.”

In the assessment of the SEC’s annulment ruling you made in Gazete Duvar and Diken, you said, “This isn’t a ruling.” I would like you to expand on this assessment of yours with reference to the question most asked about the annulment ruling. If there is an irregularity in the composition of polling station committees, how come three election results emerging from the same envelope are deemed valid and just the Istanbul Metropolitan Mayoral result is annulled?

Yes, I raised such criticism in Duvar. I underlined in the brief article in Diken and in Duvar that this “ruling” did not merit classification as a “ruling” and I gave the example of the “367” ruling in 2007 in the article in Diken. Abdullah Gül also referred to the same ruling. He is of course correct to a degree, but however much I disagree with that ruling, it had an “argument.” However, this ruling is a lost cause. Everything transpires before our eyes and we have to give a name to these abnormalities that we are obliged to watch. Your justified question is essentially a product of the same fruitless endeavour! You ask, “How can the mayoralty alone be annulled and not the others?” Is there any aspect of this that can be accounted for with logic, the law or statute? There’s actually no need because the issue is clearly divorced from technical legal discussion. We’re no longer in that arena.

I think your question should be fielded by our judges and the SEC that are becoming ever more “dependent.” For example, why did eleven members vote? I am yet to comprehend this. There are seven regular and four substitute members Why did they all vote? I have no idea. However, these are relegated to secondary considerations within this nonsense. Like I said in the article in Duvar, if the SEC were to hear a divorce case nobody in the country would be left astonished at this. No answer to your question comes to mind apart from, “God must have some design.” Of course, they’re worried about losing the sub-provinces they won if all elections in Istanbul are rerun.

A further question that will aid us in understanding why and how reasons that defy explanation in the legal realm were manufactured is why didn’t the SEC adhere to its own ruling that such objections would not be entertained if the time limit to objections to the polling station committees was exceeded?

Had it done so, it could not have ruled as it did! To pass this ruling, it also flouted its own case law. The position in question is nothing particularly new for our exceptionally dependant judiciary. I wrote my master’s degree thesis on banning parties. I realized at that time that in most cases that Constitutional Court/state first decides to close a party and then writes the reasons! We see the SEC failing to adhere to its own case law. All well and fine, but how in your opinion could tens of thousands of citizens have been dismissed without questioning or inquiry? So, the state of emergency decrees with the force of law were legal and compliant with the law but the SEC ruling was not! For heaven’s sake why is Demirtaş behind bars? Sırrı Süreyya? Why did Prof. Füsun Üstel go to jail two days ago? Why is it that academics who signed a declaration with no criminal element are on trial? How come they each get a different sentence for the same signature? Why is Osman Kavala in jail? For precisely the reason these things are happening to people, the SEC ruling was issued for the same reason. Were you the pool media and I one of the pool clowns, we could act as if this were something up for debate, but we aren’t. Why weren’t the time limits adhered to? Why should they be? We have long since passed these thresholds, unfortunately. How did that happen? It just did, because they can do it. That’s what it boils down to.


At the heart of the manufactured reasons are the polling station committees. With the law providing that (in summary), “Should it subsequently be ascertained after the election that the polling station committee chair and officials abused their positions and a crime was constituted, the involved parties must be punished. However, this is not grounds for annulling the election.” How can it happen that the SEC entertains an objection that cannot be given substance and also only reverses this in the case of the metropolitan mayoralty?

Yes, that’s what it states in the law. And they don’t take the law seriously. If I’m not mistaken, it was in Orwell: nothing was illegal, since there were no longer any laws! Also, nothing like abuse of position was going on. It was certainly not just any old body, either, who created those polling station committees or signed those signatures on election day. You see, they kept on saying “we sense” because there’s nothing there. An election is annulled on account of “sensing.” We’re witnessing one of the most surreal stories in the history of the republic. The political Islamists cannot stomach giving up Istanbul, it’s that simple. Regardless of what it states in the laws. For this reason, I make frequent recourse to Ali Duran Topuz’s term of anti-law. This is not unlawfulness. You can rectify that. However, you cannot rectify the disregarding of the law. So, I choose examples that are as nonsensical as can be. I say the SEC may grant divorce decrees at any moment. If one day such a thing happens would you dispute it? Would you say it was against the Civil Code? Had Binali Yıldırım won this election by a majority of three thousand like they initially declared, would we have disputed this? What are we disputing now, then?

In addition, given that the appointing of people who are not public servants to polling station committees underwent SEC approval, why is the SEC palming off its own responsibility onto the electorate?

Who is it to palm it off onto? Last week Galatasaray beat my team, Beşiktaş, 2-0. Imagine I’m somebody very powerful. I objected. I said, “I have queer sensations inside me. Something happened in that match.” I claim that one of the ball collectors has his money in a notorious bank. I insist, saying, “The whole country is waiting for the match to be repeated.” The federation, opining that the 2-0 score is troubling supporters’ consciences, says it is right and proper for the match to be replayed. It finds a reason and says that there are certain shortcomings in one of the technical directors’ contracts. Now you ask me, “Isn’t this an affront against Galatasaray supporters?” You’re so right it is!

So, why did the SEC dismiss the application for a repeat of the election in Maltepe and Büyükçekmece where applications were made for the same reasons?

I don’t know. This means they didn’t “sense” anything there in a powerful way. Sensations are important.


Another matter for debate is how the election will be managed going forward and, since the SEC has not lived up to its responsibilities, if the Istanbul elections are to be reheld, how is the SEC that caused this to hold the re-election in Istanbul and future elections?

Do you trust the SEC? The reply to your question is implicit in this. The SEC is an institution that has been cherished by Turkish democracy from 1950 until today. For the first time, a country entrusted both the supervision and management of elections to an institution composed of judges. It was enshrined in the Constitution in 1961. The 1982 Constitution adopted it as it stood. That SEC has spelled its own end with the rulings it has passed in recent years and especially the 6 May ruling. It’s a great pity. How are they to manage subsequent elections? I guess with their sensations!


How does it resonate with you when decree with the force of law victims, whom the AKP wanted to be prevented from voting, were first told “you can contest the election,” and then, having been elected, “No, I’ve scrapped that.”

Ah, I wrote about this point at Diken. They are consumed with thoughts of stripping the citizenship rights from people they have sacked under administrative decisions! That moustached friend, you will recall, said, “In my view” about this matter. So, once more he sensed certain things to do with the decree victims’ situation. He came out with things like, “In my view they shouldn’t vote.” These are very special people. Their value must be appreciated. I make other proposals in that article. It should not end with taking their right to vote. There should be a move to separate attire for decree victims. We do not stand out in society and may mix in. It would be good for us to be branded somewhere on our bodies, preferably our foreheads. This method would also be very fitting for the politically Islamic regime.

What is your take on the person who was elected being stripped of their certificate of election and it being given to the second-placed candidate?

Taking a decree victim candidate’s certificate of election is a scandal, while for the second placed to come running up to take it is impudence. The first calls for legal/political debate and the second social/moral. Unfortunately, a decree has not been issued making feeling embarrassed compulsory! The SEC, having accepted the decree victims’ “candidacy,” declined to give certificates of election after they had been elected. They probably sensed certain things again. Of course, we don’t know what they sensed. I read just yesterday in the paper that a bloke who crashed into one of those municipalities despite coming second immediately made his brother into his deputy. The AKP crowd are happy with this situation. We couldn’t get them to believe it if we explained it for a century!

Having taken it to the Constitutional Court, with the HDP announcing they will apply to the European Court of Human Rights over the decree victims ruling, will their endeavour bear fruit?

Acceptance of an individual application is conditional on the matter simultaneously falling under the scope of the European Convention on Human Rights, that is, it must come within the “area of overlap.” There must be a violation of both the Constitution and European Convention on Human Rights, you see. But the European Court of Human Rights has previously ruled on this matter. And the Constitutional Court did so on Mansur Yavaş. They do not regard local elections as coming within this scope. They have ruled that the elected organ “must have legislative power.” In short, this blatant breach will be thrown out of both the Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights. Individual application appears to have been introduced in Turkey so that it lacks any function in important matters. I suspect the Constitutional Court is also satisfied with this situation. They also favour not ruling on fundamental critical points or not detecting violation. They rule there has been a violation in non-critical cases and block their ears in those of essential importance. But, today, it detected a violation in Ayşe teacher’s conviction. So, well done, the occasional passing of a correct and timely ruling is grist to the mill.


However much it has done something said to be undoable, the thinking was that the AKP/Erdoğan “couldn’t dare” intervene in Turkey’s electoral institution that more or less functions, and this would also be a huge risk and a huge error with the economic crisis in mind. Why has Erdoğan embarked on this huge risk?

Woe betide anyone who sets out be an astrologer. Yes, they are doing everything that was said to be undoable. If you ask me, they’re acting like this because they couldn’t do it in any other way. They have to stay in power. There remains no other road know to them. They have expended the tools they had in the first years: their material strength and especially the moral superiority from the lawsuits brought against them, and their human resources. Who’s left from among the AKP’s ranks of ten years ago? A party promising to fight against the Mehmet Ağar and Tansu Çiller mentality/years now fetes the latter as guests of honour. It retains no argument for being elected. Hence, more flouting, more belittling and more arrogance. If the economy was good they probably wouldn’t care much, but it isn’t. Most recently, a Palace official noted down by hand the celebrities who were saying “Everything will be just fine” and posted them on the internet. This is what it’s come to. These are signs of weakness, not strength. Had somebody told the AKP in the past forty days, “Do things such that they will all be to your disadvantage,” they could not have succeeded to this extent. This style of government has become a necessity. It is redolent of those men who resort to violence against their wives so they won’t leave them and will fall into line.

Has the loss of Istanbul intensified this necessity?

Istanbul is one-fifth of Turkey’s population. The centre of capital. The AKP has for years rooted its power in foundations and municipalities. Istanbul is valuable to an extent that they cannot let it go. This is why they lost their rag and annulled the election through sensing things. Sorry, the SEC ordered a rerun of the election! The moment you appear to be strongest can be your weakest moment. If you asked five years ago, I could have said they plan everything minutely. Just now, I’m not so sure. They are acting out of emotion, anxiety about losing. Maybe you can get by for a while saying the “opposite” of everything that is happening, but this has a limit. There is no economic crisis! Really? Come and tell that to our local shopkeeper. If you talk of foreign forces and the like to somebody who can’t buy onions, they nod for a few days and then vote for somebody who promises cheap onions! Yes, Istanbul is very valuable, but I’m not at all sure how consciously they are acting. Do you think those firmly ensconced in power trouble themselves with tweet-posting singers?


You have addressed in your column in Diken the legitimacy-ballot box relationship issue that the AKP’s stance of denying recognition to the election result has once more brought to the fore and noted, “The mentality that tends to see the election it wins as legitimate and the one it loses as illegitimate cannot then dispense with the “ballot box” on which its own legitimacy is based.” What does it mean for the single-man, single-party regime to dispense with the ballot box/electoral institution?

There are those, admittedly toning things down a bit and with the contribution of Anglo-Saxon literature, who call regimes like ours “elected dictatorships.” This is true to an extent, but it seems like an excessively toned-down description to me. Regimes in this category need unending “approval.” Even if there is duress, they must obtain “consent.” If it is impossible to manufacture that consent by remaining within the bounds of the rule of law, it will be obtained by exceeding them. Had the election not been annulled, it would have been impossible to call what happened a democratic election process. With the blatant use of public funds on the one hand and the opposition undergoing daily verbal abuse, there’s nothing election-like about an election in which virtually all press and broadcasting outlets are under the rulers’ control. The opposition embarks on all elections consenting to this. It rejects the boycott option. So, it cannot raise its voice when confronted by a fait accompli. The rulers don’t reject the ballot box outright, but instead shape the conditions to suit their own wishes. That is, the ballot box is not the ballot box as we know it! It is like a magician’s box. With a “hocus pocus” the will of millions of voters vanished. Now a fresh poll will be held. Well, in the end, we’re a democracy, aren’t we?!

Of course, if we are to use the word “threshold,” yes, a further massive threshold has been crossed. The nonsense of “exploratory talks” was the first. This is the second and more abrupt situation.

Will the AKP/ Erdoğan’s victory in the election on 23 June provide the underpinnings of the legitimacy they base themselves on and wish for?

No, it won’t. The lost election has been lost. You can’t win from now on. You’ll just take the municipality but this doesn’t amount to winning. The opposition and İmamoğlu won. It’s that simple. But it will of course leave the opposition in a difficult place because they say, “Yes” to the invitation to the game. If they lose, what are they to object to? I don’t think anyone is capable of making a sound prediction just now. I didn’t know İmamoğlu’s name four months ago!

The annulment of the Istanbul election has turned the question of “Will the AKP concede power electorally?” into that of, “If it loses on 23 June, too, will it recognize the result?”

I don’t know. I am unable to conceive of anything or forecast anything about 23 June. I don’t know about two days later. There is no need to spread hopelessness nor, in common parlance, “to pump it up.” We’ll find out when it happens.

The annulment is for the most part being likened to the 7 June process. Indeed, Abdülkadir Selvi also wrote in his column, “Erdoğan has used the 7 June method and won.” To what extent does today’s state of play resemble 7 June?

There’s no resemblance. Think. Even Gülben Ergen and Yılmaz Erdoğan have tweeted in support of İmamoğlu. The country is not the same country, nor the rulers the same rulers, nor the voters the same voters, nor the media the same media, nor the AKP the same AKP, nor Erdoğan the same Erdoğan, nor the opposition the same opposition. Agreed, Abdülkadir Selvi is the same Abdülkadir Selvi. I am thus of the opinion that the assessment he has made must be met with understanding.


You have noted that a far deeper threshold was crossed with the 6 May ruling even if a whole host of examples of the instrumentalization of the judiciary and this being normalized have been experienced. What kind of law is the law of the would-be new regime?

It shows how logical the analysis Ali Duran Topuz has been making for some time using the nomenclature “anti-law” is. The new system and the maintainers of this system can act in no other way. The nature of the system and their need to stay in power does not permit the creation and application of another law. The law is now law to the extent permitted. In this regard, Selçuk Kozağaçlı’s articles from prison also speak volumes. Likewise, Selahattin Demirtaş’s defence. What I will say is that before the SEC ruling, some people were pointing out certain things and trying scream loud enough to be heard. The SEC ruling has done what has somehow escaped the opposition and given a name to the regime.


It is asserted in AKP circles that this time resort will be made to a language of normalization and embracement in Erdoğan’s election campaign. And, each day and each hour that this assertion is kept alive, yet more recourse is made to violence, duress and rights violations. What would you say, is it hoped that talk of embracement will neutralize such goings on as the jailing of peace signatory Prof. Dr. Füsun Üstel, the tipping over of the picnic spread and dragging mothers along the ground?

This talk is always being aired. A few years ago I penned an article saying, “Please be so good as not to embrace me!” For heaven’s sake, the thing you call a human is not stone, is not made of cement. Let’s put our ideological differences to one side for a moment. You cannot one month later tell people you have called from morning to night terrorists, vile, traitors and so on, “Come, buddy, I’ll embrace you.” I’m not one of those who take this talk seriously and get excited, so sorry. Also, I cannot embrace everyone just like that, it’s against my principles. And I don’t think they’re going to embrace a decree victim. Oh, God forbid! Yes, academic Füsun has gone to jail because esteemed society didn’t care. How many people do you think there are in Turkey who think this was “shameful?” Let’s borrow the notion from Ali Topuz: the story has turned into an “anti-civilization.” A woman professor who signed the peace text has gone to jail. Whichever language you translate this sentence into, it causes discomfort. But, for example, it does not discomfort Turkey’s wretched academia and universities. They emit not a peep. As to the intervention staged against İhsan Eliaçık and the others having the fast-breaking meal, this is the hopelessness of political Islam’s most capitalist form. They hate the notion of equality. Eliaçık has a handful of sympathisers but this suffices to drive them made. This is because the man is honest. This is what it’s about. Should the same footage have chanced to happen during a time when the CHP was in office, they would have chewed on it like chewing gum until the end of the 21st century. “The CHP mentality attacked keepers of the fast.” However, political Islamists were destined to play out this scene. They are welcome to it.

With this being so, why are claims of “normalization” aired?

Due to inflation, the interest rate and onions, I think. The price of onions and long peppers will cause trouble for the government in Turkey, not the raping of kids at certain foundations. Let’s not forget that the AKP is the party of small business and this is its stronghold. Shops are closing. And, of course, İmamoğlu’s style has cramped the bawlers and shouters.


Is it just the ballot box/electoral institution that have been destroyed with the 6 May ruling? What other kinds of political and social effects will the suspension of one of the most basic principles of formal democracy have?

Certainly not. In replying to your earlier question, I spoke of the SEC’s importance and its value for our democracy, even if it functions brokenly. It’s a very important institution and the system’s safety valve has brought itself into this state. This powerlessness seems incomprehensible. Authoritarianism is said to be on the increase in the West, too. True it has scored victory after victory everywhere in recent years thanks to the extinction phase of capitalism. Of course, creating its own opposition, too. All well and good, in the West there’s still a self-confident judiciary that can be deemed independent. There’s a strong civil service. There are traditions. There’s a freedom of thought that provides a breathing space. How can you compare academic and press freedom in the USA and France with that in Turkey? True, they’re all capitalist, but you’ll realize that every bourgeoisie does not resemble each another. Turkey’s civil service that had its origins with Mahmut II and is the foundation of the modern state has crumbled. The state’s backbone is the civil service. Go and speak to a civil servant and let them tell you how things are. They’ve ruined it. What they call the new system is a fantasy. They’ve made the situation all the more critical. Administrative jurists have no idea what to talk about. My colleagues at law faculties ask themselves, “What are we doing here?” So, rulings like the SEC ruling don’t just amount to the annulment of an election. It’s one of the steps in the demolition of institutionalization. It makes everyone say, “Crikey, doing that’s turned out to be possible as well. So that means it can be done!” The fellow citizen can’t work out what’s coming in three days’ time thanks to these ridiculous developments. I mean, developments like the SEC ruling give succour to a much greater and more widespread pessimism.

Foreshadowed by the annulment ruling, what kind of future awaits Turkey where political and economic uncertainty and unpredictability have increased further?

Our history of modernization is longer than two centuries. The Republic is about to stretch into a century. This is not a simple place and it has made immense accruals. Opposition to Abdülhamit was going on in parliament in 1877. Yes, institutions have undergone great ruin and moral decay has assumed visible form, but let’s not belittle our history and ourselves. For the whole of history, Turkey has always chased after democratic principles, even if somewhat belatedly. Don’t put it down as fortune telling, but I think it will do so once more. Look at the excitement and resolve in people. There’s tiredness, yes, dauntedness, yes, bewilderment, yes, concern, yes … but there’s no hopelessness. Never.

(Translated by Tim Drayton)