Turkey is poised to directly elect its first president. In a normal situation, this would be a cause for celebration – a nation to choose its head of state, a leader who will be elected by the people for the people. But this is no ordinary moment in Turkey’s history as a republic. Since the rapid decline of the country’s democratic values, this election is something we should worry about.
As a Nato member thought to have one of the most consolidated democracies in the Middle East, the suppression of journalists, minorities and protesters is of much concern.
In the West, Turkey became a country to watch nervously during the 2013 Gezi protests. The demonstrations, which had begun with a small movement opposing the demolition of a park, were badly handled by police who used tear gas and water cannons to disperse crowds.
With every news story coming out of Turkey demonstrating the dictatorial nature of the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, I worry more for the country I was born in and remain a citizen of.
Not only does the prime minister believe he has the right to personally attack journalists – for example, the Economist’s Amberin Zaman, whom he described as a militant who should know her place – but even the much-lauded economy is no longer the great beacon it once was. It is reliant on credit, and the lira is weaker than it has been in recent history.
The culmination of this unease came a few weeks ago when I began to consider who to vote for in Sunday’s presidential elections: a premier who appears more demagogic by the day, or two candidates whom I had no inclination to get behind?
That is when I decided I would not be voting. In casting a ballot, I would be tacitly accepting that Mr Erdogan can “do a Putin” and swap jobs having already led the country for more than a decade. By voting, I would be acquiescing to the current state of Turkish democracy, despite the continued arrests and investigations into police officers, journalists and army generals. By voting, I accept my vote is valid and would make a difference.
So I won’t be participating in an election where the opposition is not given a proper chance to propose an alternative to Erdogan’s status quo and will never be given the chance to do so.
Turkish media is stifled. More journalists are jailed in Turkey than anywhere else in the world, and because of a seeming feud between Mr Erdogan and Islamic preacher, Fethullah Gulen, arrests and sackings are commonplace. In January, there were reports that 350 police officers were sacked in the capital, Ankara, and only last month, there were arrests of police officers for the illegal wiretapping of the prime minister’s phone.
These elections are not an equal contest conducted under equal rules. Mr Erdogan has every resource at his disposal – from the control of a shackled media to his personal appeal, and a proven good track at exploiting the divisions in Turkish society. He has played dirty and will continue to do so. Mr Erdogan is playing on the polarisation of Turkish society.
He makes no attempt to court the votes of the more Western, secular youth. That worries me. As a young woman, despite not wanting to have an abortion, it is my right to decide. Not one man in Istanbul’s.
The AKP also promulgate the belief that being Muslim and being secular are mutually exclusive choices in Turkey. They are not. I happily observe my religion but loathe the state’s attempts to dictate what individuals can and cannot do in the public sphere. In fact, I enjoy laughing out loud in public.
At the risk of sounding like Russell Brand, this is a personal choice. I’m someone for whom turning 18 didn’t mean a drink but a chance to vote. I know that change can only often be brought by taking part in the democratic process, but if a state is sliding towards proto-dictatorship, these elections no longer become free and fair and my vote no longer can make a change to improve a burgeoning republic.
I’ll watch the election with interest, but no shock will come when Mr Erdogan is victorious. My main concern will be about the direction of the nation.
And it should concern us all.
Raziye Akkoc is a reporter for The Telegraph with a particular interest in home news and politics. She has previously worked at The Guardian and has done stints at Press Association and the Liverpool Echo.