Benefit of the doubt, but to what extent?

One can understand the European Union wanting to give Prime Minister Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party, the AKP, the benefit of the doubt. He is after all at the helm and has - in many ways - been a better interlocutor for Europe than might have been expected back in 2002, when there was serious concern about the election of what was considered then to be an Islamist government.

In the interim, the main opposition Republican People’s Party, the CHP, has to a great extent, at least until the recent visit of its leader Deniz Baykal to Brussels, shunned Turkey’s EU perspective, appearing not in any way interested in this matter. It remains to be seen, even today, whether the CHP will alter this stance from now on.

Clearly it is because of this that Erdogan is getting much less criticism from Europe these days than he deserves, despite some glaring problems which should not pass scrutiny by those in the EU who are closely concerned with Turkey. It might therefore be useful to provide a quick check-list of what has been going on during his watch as prime minister.

1- Unauthorized phone tappings, the transcripts of which are then quickly leaked to the elements of the media that support the government by various means. The government tries to clear itself by maintaining it is aware that this is illegal, and yet is not seen to be pursuing this matter legally with any enthusiasm.

2 Ğ Selective tax auditing has turned into a tool of intimidation against a key element of the Turkish media that is critical of the government, and it is an open secret that businessmen who may not be close to the AKP, and may even oppose it, are wary of this weapon being used against them at any given time, should they speak out about it.

3- Calls to boycott the media that is critical of the government by the prime minister have become a regular, almost ordinary, event in a way that questions the sincerity of the government when it claims to respect the freedom of expression and the press.

4- A key government minister, namely the Minister of Justice, comes out and openly threatens the electorate, by indicating that if anyone votes for the opposition in the upcoming municipal elections, then it is unlikely that those non AKP municipalities will get any help from the government in the future. This is a serious threat given that all municipalities in Turkey need government help in providing services to the public.

5- Serious legal irregularities taking place in the Ergenekon case Ğ even though this case is important and must be pursued to the end Ğ during this government’s watch, while some cases involving corruption, and which cast a shadow over the government, are scrutinized with less enthusiasm by regulatory bodies.

In addition to this one can add an extremely vitriolic and bellicose attitude by Prime Minister Erdogan, who has gone so far as to accuse the president of another country at a public forum of being a killer, and who has also openly insulted a columnist who happens to be critical of him, and is at the same time a dog-lover - incapable of doing anything but sleep with his dogs.

Given such a list one can not help but wonder to what extent the benefit of the doubt can be extended to this government, and to when someone in Europe will start questioning what is going on in Turkey, the way they have questioned so many other issues concerning this country in the past without any prompting.
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