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August 31, 2012, Friday

A president’s health bulletin, conspiracy theories and reality

When a leading architect of the Turkey of the new millennium is hospitalized, it is only normal that society is concerned. How serious is his illness, how long will he need to rest and what happens during his absence from work?

In the case of President Abdullah Gül’s current stay at a hospital in the capital, Ankara, due to a recurring ear infection, public concern is paired with public caring as the president is highly admired and respected. Seen in the light of the country’s not-so-distant past, it is totally understandable that the electorate is reflecting on whether or not foul play could have been involved. Political commentators, however, must refrain from joining that chorus of conspiracy theories and focus on the reality. The trouble begins when that reality at times may not have been what it seemed.

Let me first come back to the sentence in which I mention details of the president’s health. The Çankaya presidential palace keeps the Turkish public very well in the loop; there is no secrecy. The health bulletin clearly states which condition led to his hospitalization. The electorate learns that, once released, President Gül will nevertheless have to refrain from air travel for up to two months. We know at which hospital he is staying and how many experts assessed his condition. We follow his tweets. This transparency is a clear sign of a mature democracy as opposed to Kremlin-style cover-ups. Not only this -- photos published yesterday showing the president in his hospital room underline that this is a president working for the people -- no pomp, just a state-of-the-art yet modest hospital bedroom where the patient’s speedy recovery tops the agenda. Even while hospitalized President Gül is the perfect role model!

Nevertheless, sharing my initial feelings when I heard that a landmark Victory Day reception planned for last Thursday had been cancelled because of President Gül’s health issue, I did worry indeed. Why? The intended format of the reception and, above all else, where and by whom it was supposed to be hosted symbolized another milestone on the road whose street-signs read full-fledged civilian-run democracy. Some individuals who have still not overcome their resentment against the current office holder -- as well as his wife’s preferred choice of attire (!), albeit being an absolute minority -- will have breathed another ill-fated sigh of relief. Hence, for a very brief moment did I ponder thoughts about whether something inappropriate could have happened. Others apparently did, too, including writing a number of headlines openly addressing the issue of whether the president was perhaps poisoned.

Yet, if I am not mistaken, both the transparency with which we were kept informed as well as the advanced state of democratization (and I am certain adequate security measures protecting the president at all times), let me file all this speculation as fiction.

On to the facts and even without mentioning the words “conspiracy theory” and taking my comment into account, in which I refer to the minority who are until today unhappy about President Gül’s tenure, we should continue to monitor each and every development which -- and even if only for a second -- could turn fishy. I am one of those who indeed believe that, regardless of the fact that the unique Turkish spring has long turned into summer, someone someplace will still aim at toppling the present government run by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AK Party), although not replacing it by means of victory at the ballot box but by less democratically inclined efforts. As a military coup is no longer an option, removing AK Party politicians from power by any other illicit means may still feature prominently in the minds of those who prefer a return to the 1980s and not a continuation towards even more democracy.

In a nutshell: No need for conspiracy theories with regards to President Gül’s current hospitalization. But a clearly defined, ongoing need to keep ears and eyes open with regards to how reality (much cherished by all supporters of democracy, much loathed by the few proponents of authority over people’s free will) may prompt some anti-democratic elements in society to continue to dream of replacing 2012 by 1980 or even earlier dates in Turkey’s history.

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