Australia is kidding itself if it thinks it’s immune from the wave of “political insanity” that has swept many of its peers where lying has become encouraged and “immorality is the new black”.
That’s the view of Turkish political author Ece Temelkuran who said her country has increasingly become a one person regime — like several once solidly democratic nations.
While One Nation leader Pauline Hanson may not be “charismatic” and so was unlikely to be a serious political force, it didn’t matter, as she had already dragged the centre of Australian political life further to the extremes, she said.
Zagreb-based Ms Temelkuran is the author of How to Lose a Country and is appearing on Sunday at the Sydney Writers’ Festival.
Her book, she explained, was about the global rise of populism and was “ironically written as a manual for new dictators — like an Ikea manual of politics”.
Countries could stumble from stable democracies in just seven easy steps, Ms Temelkuran said. Just look at her own country of Turkey, which was once a shining jewel of how a nation could be at once deeply religious, secular and democratic.
However, the rule of the conservative Justice and Development Party and its leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has steadily centralised power around himself and purged dissenting voices from public life, has led to fears democracy is ebbing away. He recently accused Australians of being anti-Islamic.
Then there’s Venezuela which now has two rival parliaments that both claim democratic legitimacy — but one has more than 500 of the 545 seats held by parties in support of the President Nicolas Maduro, who has been accused of effectively being a dictator.
“In Turkey we’ve been living under this one person regime for years and it is the perfect case of rising populism but then I started observing that in European and US politics, exactly the same thing was happening.
“The Europeans are just better at window dressing”.
The electoral success of populists like Erdogan, the US’ Donald Trump and Brazil’s newly installed president Jair Bolsonaro didn’t come out of nowhere. There are legitimate pressures on people globally, but Ms Temelkuran has asked whether the new breed of outspoken and authoritarian-leaning leaders is the answer to those concerns.
“Rising populism is the monster child of neo liberal politics. There’s a rising gap between rich and poor and the invisibility of the masses. The problem is this anger has been mobilised by right wing politicians who will betray those masses as soon as they get into power.
“Populist leaders say they will restore people’s pride by bringing the corrupt elite to their knees. It is a false promise because they themselves are corrupt,” she said.
HOW TO TAKE OVER A COUNTRY — A USER’S GUIDE
So if you want to take over a previously democratic country and run it as you own fiefdom, what should your plan of action be?
First you need to create a movement, something that aggrieved voters can rally around and which cuts through established party lines.
Then “terrorise the language”. By this Ms Temelkuran means simply ignoring normal rational arguments and saying whatever the hell you like.
“People go ‘the world is flat’ and you don’t know what to say. Ideas have become commodities, we’ve been told you can choose any idea and they are all equal to one another.”
Then there’s just downright lying which Ms Temelkuran said was a result of there being no “shame” left in politics.
“We’re living an age where (political) immorality is the new black. In the post-truth age lying is not only normalised but encouraged”.
Inevitably, she advises the budding dictator, the naysayers will scoff at your outrageous antics. Let them; the joke will be on them.
“In the beginning we think we can laugh at right wing populist leaders and supporters as we think it’s going to be OK. Then the laughter becomes more nervous, then we do it to calm our anxiety and in the end there is nothing to laugh about.
“We thought laughter was a tool of resistance but in the end it turns into comfortable shelter.”
Dictatorships will then try and “design” their perfect citizen, said Ms Temelkuran. Someone as a role model for everyone else. And someone who other people can be cajoled into becoming.
“They almost always start with a woman to be the perfect family member and ideal citizen.”
This citizen can be pious or have no religion, but they are always conservative.
“It’s not rocket science: you can be non-religious but you must be obedient.
“When they treat women like this somehow men do not really react and by the time it becomes their turn a new generation has been created.”
Once you have neutered the established parties, broken the existing political and judicial systems, quelled resistance and made clear who the ideal citizen is, you can then do the last step which is design your own country.
IT COULD HAPPEN HERE
“Australia is far away so maybe you think this plague won’t touch you but it doesn’t work like that.
“You don’t need a Trump to shape the politics; it is now the politics around the world and is shaping the entire political perspective,” she said.
“But you do have Pauline Hanson. Australians are very lucky Pauline Hanson is not a charismatic political animal but (nonetheless) what is considered to be normal (political discourse) in Australia has changed.”
Ms Temelkuran said Ms Hanson was party responsible for the shift.
“Remember what was normal five years ago and what has changed, for instance xenophobia around immigration.”
She said Ms Hanson’s influence was most similar to former UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage who never rose in politics any higher than being a member of the European parliament.
“Farage is not running Britain but he started the entire Brexit drama. They pull the entire political ground to the right so even (if) you feel you haven’t changed your position, you have been moved by the shift.”
Witness Australia’s election campaign being swamped for days by candidate dramas.
The Liberal’s Jessica Whelan resigned due to a lurid anti-Muslim social media post; the same party’s Peter Killin railed against the temerity of a “notorious homosexual” (a married gay MP) being in parliament while Labor’s Luke Creasy has fallen on his sword after posts emerged where he spoke about a group of friends “roughly taking” a female friend’s virginity while he watched.
That people with such views should seek power is nothing new, that they thought they should attempt do it through the established parties is.
There are no easy answers for this “political insanity”, said Ms Temelkuran.
“We are going through a crisis of representative democracy. It’s a 21st century phenomenon and we’re trying to deal with it with 20th century tools which causes political paralysis.
“We need to have a global conversation; global solidarity will save us from the malady of our times. Otherwise nations cannot beat this beast on their own.”
Ece Temelkuran will be appearing at the Sydney Writers’ Festival at Sydney’s Carriageworks on Sunday 5 May.
Her book ‘How to Lose a Country: The 7 Steps from Democracy to Dictatorship’ is out now.