June 8, 2013
That the EU’s democracies are in crisis, courtesy of the global financial markets and the troika, is by now clear to all. These threats to democracy, however, are external. A more dangerous challenge to parliamentary democracy in countries like France and now Turkey comes from within the system itself.
In these two countries, the opposition parties, which – as a result of their poor electoral showing – do not have enough parliamentary votes to stop the parties in power from implementing their programs, have lately organised important street protests. Their ultimate objective, in France as in Turkey, is to provoke the resignation of the the French president or the Turkish premier respectively, by undemocratic means.
Of course, when large swaths of society feel misrepresented by their elected politicians, street protests are sometimes the only means of bringing their grievances to the fore. Thus, union-organised marches in austerity-stricken EU countries are acceptable forms of street protests.
The recent protests, inspired behind the scenes by the French Gaullists and the Turkish Kemalists, are less acceptable. In both France and Turkey these parties had been created by two ambitious army generals. Whilst initially successful in their drive to rebuild their war-ravaged countries, they have in time become inflexible and reactionary, when not downright undemocratic – as in Turkey. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that a majority of voters have brought their opposition to power instead.
Re-elected in 2011 with a large majority, the Turkish AKP party and its leader Mr. Erdogan had been given by the electorate a clear mandate to continue with the successful economic and social policies of the past ten years. True, President Hollande has been less successful so far in fulfilling the best part of his electoral agenda, but his Socialist party, too, has a solid majority in parliament. As a result, the Gaullists, as have the Kemalists, decided to resort to massive, if misguided, street protests in order to bring the two governments down by extra-parliamentary means. The chief reason seems to be that they cannot win in the usual way, at the ballot box.
By using social mobilisation tactics borrowed from the Arab revolutions, they hope to somehow present themselves as champions of progress and democracy, when in fact thay are undermining both. One of the tactics used in the process is to try to rally the international media to their cause. Consequently, Hollande-bashing has become the sport of choice in London, practised by its colourful mayor as well as by the prestigious newspapers and magazines. By the same token, Kemalists have succeeded in making Erdogan the bête noire of misguided civil libertarians Europe-wide, by depicting him as an undemocratic, authoritarian sultan who is trying to rob young turks of their Western-acquired vices.
True, both leaders are rather unpopular in Brussels these days, albeit for different reasons. Ideological bias should not deter EU commissioners, however, from supporting democratically-elected leaders and parties which implement their stated agendas. But perhaps this is too much to ask. EU officials are, themselves, unelected and therefore find it hard to grasp the inner workings of parliamentary democracies.