Around the world, democracy, the hard fought-for humanist ideal that ordinary people must have the right to steer their nation’s destiny, is under attack.
The attack takes different shapes in different places. In countries like France, Holland and Ireland, democracy was mortally wounded through simply being ignored: those nations’ mass, majoritarian cries of opposition to the EU Constitution were casually brushed aside. In Brexit Britain, democracy is chipped away at politely, by businesspeople, ex-PMs, legal minds, unelected lords and an angry chattering class keen to override the anti-EU stand taken by the apparently ‘low information’ majority. In Trump’s America, the anti-Trump establishment openly calls for more checks on popular opinion, to tame plebs’ ‘untrammelled emotions’. And in Turkey, as we saw yesterday, democracy is throttled through the firm, jealous consolidation of presidential power.
Some European observers, who, post-Brexit, view every referendum as a threat to stability, if not a Hitlerian device of mayhem, are talking about Erdogan’s referendum to give himself sweeping powers in the same breath as the Brexit referendum. Both the ‘Brexit and Erdogan referendums are illegitimate’, says philosopher turned anti-democrat AC Grayling. A Europe ‘traumatised by Brexit’ hasn’t a leg to stand on when it comes to challenging the authoritarian Erdogan, says a writer for the Guardian.
These attempts to link Brexit with Erdogan are beyond wrong. In truth, Erdogan’s campaign to weaken parliamentary democracy in order to sideline pesky oppositionists and to streamline political decision-making is far more in keeping with the Remainer / EU worldview than with Brexit. It’s another expression of the 21st-century elite turn against democratic ideals that the anti-Brexit sentiment, the establishment fury with the Trump throng, and Brussels’ power-grabbing constitutions – rejected by millions of Europeans – also express and embody.
Erdogan won the referendum on expanding his powers by a slim majority: 51.3 per cent said Yes to his plans; 48.7 per cent said No. He won by 1.25million votes, in a referendum in which 47.5million people – 80 per cent of the electorate – voted. The results are being disputed, and with very good reason: over the past few months Turkey has witnessed the jailing of oppositionists, the purging of Erdogan’s critics from public life, and a war on media freedom, meaning this was far from a normal, open, free electoral campaign. Indeed, election results become close to meaningless when one side of the debate is silenced, battered or imprisoned.