When representatives of the main opposition party wanted to visit the Turkish Statistical Institute (TÜİK), the government responded by calling it, “the TÜİK raid.” What opposition parties will do and how they will behave is up to them.
Something about this visit caught my attention. Some argued that it was within the scope of deputies’ rights to obtain information from public institutions and to visit public institutions (that’s included in the statement on the institution’s own website). Others described it as a raid. Both interpretations are seriously lacking in terms of how the concept of the state is perceived. Both approaches, in essence, endorse and normalize the authoritarian understanding of the “holy state.” The opposition does this unknowingly, unwittingly, while the government does it willingly.
Neither the state nor those elected by your votes are sacred
I will explain what I mean. But first, it is necessary to address what, exactly, representative democracy is. Ancient Greek city-states practiced direct democracy. Those considered citizens gathered in the city square and all decisions were made by the people’s assembly. This was a direct democracy. There were no representatives of the people, deputies, or elected officials. Those who were accepted as citizens made their own decisions directly.
Then, the cities became more populous, the number of citizens increased, and they grew to a size that could no longer fit in city squares, and could no longer discuss and decide in a healthy way. Instead of gathering everyone in the people’s assembly, they devised a solution. It was deemed necessary that someone is elected on behalf of the people and that the elected representatives would convene and make decisions on behalf of the people. Thus, representative democracy was born.
In time, representative democracy worked against the people. Representatives became a privileged class thanks to the will of the people they represented. Instead of making decisions on behalf of the people to administer the state, these representatives began to see themselves as the owners of the state. Unfortunately, the people accepted this and normalized it over time. In other words, it came to pass that the will to govern the state, which originally belonged directly to the people, was taken away from them by means of representatives and deputies. Thus, the state was positioned above the people, and the elected officials who ruled it were placed in a class above the people.
In other words, dear people, neither the state nor the representatives are above you. The state is not sacred, nor are those elected by your votes. TÜİK, especially, is not holy at all. The state and its rulers are the servants of the people. As soon as we forget this, the state will wind itself around us and become an authoritarian state of oppression.
The responsibility and duty of supervision
Given this analysis, let’s turn to the current situation. The bylaws of Turkey's parliament and the Constitution give two basic duties to representatives. The first is legislation - that is, making laws. The second is supervision - that is, overseeing the actions of the government. Needless to say, the legislative mandate and authority are widely understood. But, within the “holy state” mentality, the supervisory authority and duty are either not known or are suppressed to the point of not being used at all. However, all activities of the government, without exception, are subject to judicial and legislative oversight. At least, that’s what the Constitution says. In other words, the nation, through its representatives, has the right (and even the responsibility) to oversee everything - everything - done by those who govern the state. The state and its institutions do not belong to any one person, especially not the government. Even the smallest pin created by the state belongs to the people. The government has to give an account of how that pin was used to the public. This accountability is not at the discretion of governments. It is a constitutional and moral obligation. So, then, how can the people control the state? Through elected representatives, deputies, and the judiciary, of course.
Therefore, our country’s deputies who go to TÜİK are not there within the scope of their right to information. No, they are there within the scope of the right, authority, and duty of oversight given to them by the parliament, the Constitution, and the nation.
If the bureaucrats, who welcome government deputies, lock the door when an opposition deputy visits a public institution, it can be said that there is a serious distortion of mindset and an authoritarian state. When it is considered normal that, despite every member of the parliament having the same rights, the government acts as the owner of the state, the situation is dire. If we are to transition to a real democratic parliamentary system, the power of deputies to supervise the state should be specifically ensured.
In summary, dear and valuable people, the state is yours. It is your property. It is not owned by either the government or bureaucrats. If someone calls it a raid when your representative goes to inspect your institutions on your behalf, know that someone has usurped your ownership rights. What will you do, then? You will get them back. You are the people, you can do it.
(Selahattin Demirtaş is the former co-chair of the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP). He has been imprisoned since Nov. 4, 2016 in Edirne Prison)