Reporter puts NATO chief in tight spot with question about Turkey’s democracy

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NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg was put in a tight spot when a reporter asked if member-state Turkey is still a democratic government, in an interview aired on HBO Max on Monday.

After Stoltenberg referred to NATO standards when answering questions about the possibility of Ukraine’s full membership in NATO, Axios reporter Jonathan Swan noted that promoting democratic values is a cornerstone of NATO.

“How does NATO define democracy?” Swan asked.

“The rule of law, individual liberty, free elections…” Stoltenberg said.

Swan followed up with another question, asking if Turkey is still a democratic government.

After a brief hesitation, Stoltenberg pointed to the fact that Turkey still had elections and gave the 2019 municipal elections, in which the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost the İstanbul and Ankara municipalities to the opposition, as examples.

“But I also think it is fair to say that — you know, I know — several allies have expressed concerns about Turkey,” Stoltenberg added.

Turkey has been receiving growing criticism from allies and international rights groups about the deterioration of its human rights record and democracy, particularly after a failed coup in July 2016, following which the government launched a massive crackdown on critics under the pretext of an anti-coup fight.

When Swan pointed to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s anti-democratic track record, giving his interference in the judiciary and jailing of journalists as examples, Stoltenberg said allies raise these issues with the political and diplomatic leverage available to them.

Turkey is among the countries that “autocratized” the most, together with Poland and Hungary, according to the “Democracy Report 2021,” which was published by the Swedish-based Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) Institute. The report classified Turkey as an “electoral autocracy” ranking the country in 149th place in the liberal democracy index after Egypt, Eswatini (Swaziland) and Republic of the Congo.

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