Turkish Democracy

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Turkeyhas remained one of the countries in the limelight, especially due toits political definition. This especially came after the getting intopower in 2002 by the Justice and Development Party of Turkey underRecep Tayyip Erdogan leadership. One of the major highlights of RecepTayyip Erdogan, when he came to power was to sideline the militarytutelage from the country’s political system. This action led todifferent views from the political analysts with many of them beingof the view that, this action would result into a more liberalcountry, an idea that never came to be with the nation becoming moreautocratic nation rather than being a democratic one. Differentfactors resulted in the mistaken view of the political analysts, thispaper analyzes why Turkey has turned out to be an autocratic countryrather than a democratic one, despite the separation of the militarytutelage from the political system.

Ademocratic system of governance ensures that all the citizens areinvolved in the decision-making process by voting to elect theirrepresentatives. Democracy is regarded as a universal good in alleconomies. However, despite the general consensus its importance,some socio-political circumstances in a country may underminedemocracy. The has been a subject of contention.After the ruling Justice and Development Party of Turkey (AKP) tookleadership in 2002 under Recep Tayyip Erdogan, many liberalintellectuals dealing with international relations and politicalscience in Turkey and all over the World believed that the sideliningof the military sponsorship from the political system would lead to afunctional democracy in Turkey. This prediction has, however, faileddue to several historical and structural constraints that underminedemocracy. With reference to the change in terms of leadership andpolitical system, the analysts failed to foresee the logic behind theactions of the elected leader (Recep Tayyip Erdogan). One of themajor contribution factor that blocked the view of the change is thealready in existence of own conflict with the military tutelage. Atthe incoming of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, many of the Turkishresidents as well as analysts had seen the bitter side of themilitary leadership, and at some point, had grown tired of the kindof government that involved the military. This in turn majorlycontributed to the idea that, the elimination of the military fromthe country political system would adversary be a ticket to democracyas opposed to the previous political system in the country. Withevery person in view ad in support of this option, the view failedterribly as the nation turned to more autocratic under the leadershipof Recep Tayyip Erdogan. According to Satana (2008), the intellectualwere in a fight with battles of yesterday rather than focusing on thenew and incoming ones. This somewhat made them make wrong predictionswith reference to the incoming Recep Tayyip Erdogan leadership andpolitical style. One of the points that was sorely missed when makingthe prediction is that, they failed to understand the point that, theTurkish political system and especially with a hegemonic party, thejudiciary and the court system has been key and influentialcounterweights.

Thefirst step towards democracy is the changing of the existing laws soas to ensure that the legal framework does not justify any militaryintervention in politics1.However, during the institution of such legislation, some historicalnon democratic aspects must be fully considered for democracy towork. Turkey has become an autocratic state because of somenon-democratic aspects that have been embedded in the country sinceits inception2.As a result, the discussion of Turkish democracy should first purposeto understand the socio-political processes of the country. Turkeyfollowed the path of secular modernization by prioritizing thecreation of a strong homogenized nation led by the political elite3.The Turkish system of governance has been formulated upon a frameworkof a strong state and a weak society. The government and the governedhave a one-dimensioned relationship that oppressed the governed. As aresult of this historical practice, the Turkish society has neverbeen able to establish an autonomous sphere that free from the state.This has made it hard to reconcile the different perspectives andinterests of the different socio-political groups, despite theseparation of the military from the political system. Therefore, theTurkish identity is characterized by top down control by the elitewhich explains the authoritarian structures in the country to thepresent day.

Thestate has also continuously denied the legitimacy of certain groupsthat threaten the centralized authority from the socialstratification that give the elites control over the state. Duringthe creation of the Turkish state, there emerged two distinct groups,the Kurds and the Alevi’s. These groups were a threat to thehomogeneous Turkish identity. To mitigate this, the stateinstitutionalized and suppressed these groups as well as the autonomyof civil society4.This resulted in the alienation and the polarization of the largesections of the society which yielded an institutionalized andauthoritative Kemalist regime. The suppression has also reduced theadvocacy for democracy in the country, thus favoring autocraticgovernance. Therefore, the conquest of the existing civilorganizations in Turkey has prevented citizens from exercising theirfreedom of speech and right to protest for democracy5.Additionally, the barring of dialogue with such civil organizationsby president Erdogan reduces their say in national matters thusundermining the Turkish democracy to date.

Additionally,the existing Turkish civil organizations continually face problems intheir role to promote democracy. It is obvious that the Turkish civilorganizations fall short in terms of pluralism, involvement in thepublic domain, independence and in their impact on law reform withinthe country and themselves6.Pluralism entails the self-governance in the civil societies withmost of them lacking diversity to deal with the wide range of issuesin the society. When it comes to individuality, the Turkish civilsocieties lack distinctness thus has limited responsibilities inensuring a democratic country. Finally, the civil societies in Turkeylack cooperation thus are unable to find a common framework thatgenerates legal change towards a more liberal and democratic state7.

Theascendancy of political Islam has also exempted Turkey from theglobal trend towards democratization8.The idea of a secular state has brought societal tensions in Turkey.The constitution dismantled the religious structure of the Turkishsociety. This created a paradox regarding the disparity of powerbetween the secular center and religion9.The state has actively worked towards the suppression of independentexpression of religion. The oppression of secular political partiesin Turkey, therefore, makes democracy almost impossible in thecountry10.The state has also instrumentalist Islam since the fight forindependence where it was used as a tool for liberation to currentday. Therefore, rather than being wholly secular, Turkey co-opts andsubjugates religion. Consequently, given that it contradicts thesocietal norms of democracy, the Islamic religion in Turkey hasembarked on the need for authoritarian methods of control.Additionally, religion in Turkey provides the Islamist parties withprotection from the repression of the existing political regimes11.As a result of this structural advantage, the Islamists is placed ina better position to win the free elections in the region.

Therelacks the necessary political will to transform Turkey into a fullyfunctioning democracy. The AKP is seen by many as half-heartedlycommitted towards democracy since coming into power12.The lack of commitment is attributed to the party’s refusal toinstitute reforms that are far reaching in addressing democracyissues facing the country13.The AKP did not have the three-fifths majority required to amend theconstitution. Therefore, the seeking of reforms through the creationof a national consensus rather than secularist establishment becamean impediment to Turkish democracy. The process of consensualconstitution making was abandoned in 2007 due to the lack ofunderstanding between the various parties. Also, the deepening of theexisting internal divisions in the country was a major blow to theparty delivering a new democratic constitution14.Additionally, the party continues to face opposition from stronginstitutions such as the military and the judiciary thus limiting itsability to institute various reforms for democracy.

Anotherimportant issue that prevents the democratization of Turkey over thelast decade is the fact that the old regime institutions are notfully reformed to promote democracy. For instance, there is lack ofparliamentary oversight in regard to military related expenditure15.The economic sources of the Turkish military’s political power areas intact as they were before the separation of the military frompolitics. The strengthening of the legal aspects of the parliamentarycontrol of the military’s expenditures is essential for thedemocratization of Turkey. For example, the parliament has reducedcontrol of the extra budgetary funds. The military has also continuedto participate in politics despite its tutelage from the politicalsystem16.Highest ranked military officials in modern day continue to makepublic pronouncements about the major issues affecting Turkishcitizens sometimes implying the use of force to institute policychanges thus preventing democracy.

Additionally,the Turkish constitution is not democratic enough to promote thetransition from an authoritarian to a free system of governance17.A good constitution is important in building democratic norms andinstitutions as well as maintaining civilian control over thegovernmental institutions such as military. After a series ofamendments, the current Turkish constitution has severalcontradictory parts that promote authoritarianism. The adoption ofArticle 301 in 2005 brought restriction on free speech18.The article makes it illegal to criticize the Turkish government orany other public institution. Therefore, the possibility ofpunishment in the Article has become a fundamental limitation of freespeech which is normally protected by ant democracy19.By limiting free speech, the government has reduced the ability ofvoters in Turkey to make free and informed decisions duringelections. The law allowing the government to regulate the internetand block any content without judicial consent is a major setbacktowards civil liberties and democracy20.

TheAKP has also increasingly cracked down its critics more so those inthe media21.The constitution also offers profound powers to the Turkish leadersto gag the press and compromise on the country’s democracy22.For example, the press law offers the Turkish prime minister`s excesspowers to detain journalists thus reducing the freedom of the presswhich as a hallmark of democracy. The press law has, therefore,accelerated the transition of Erdogan’s government from a populistone in 2002 to an authoritarian one. Turkey has a high number ofjournalists in detention for criticizing various governmentinstitutions. The Turkish media outlets are also biased and favor thereporters allied to Irk Erdogan thus undermining the opinions of theopposition23.Besides, journalists are not the only individuals suffering from theauthoritarian nature of Erdogan’s government. Through suctioning,sacking, and imprisoning of government critics, Erdogan has managedto control the Turkey’s business leaders and the military officialas well. The government has also reacted biliously to variousprotests in the region imprisoning some of the perpetrators insteadof listening to their issues. Such tyranny has prevented theachievement of democracy in Turkey.

Thelaw also creates strong similarities in the organizational structuresof political institutions in Turkey, which is an obstacle todemocracy. The political parties’ law accepted by the militaryregime in 1983 still prevails to date. The law restricts inner-partydemocracy by imposing a common organizational model in all theparties. Under this model, only the leaders in a political partyleaders have a direct control, thus limiting the decision makingprocess to a few individuals. Additionally, the political parties arefunded by state rather than member contributions. This frameworkreduces the transparency standards of such parties and preventsdemocracy, especially in the grass root decisions. Another importanthandicap to democracy in Turkey is the existence of gender inequalitymore so in the political arena. The majority of women in Turkey isdenied vital human rights as compared to their male counterparts.They have limited rights to education, political participation, andemployment. Turkish women, therefore, do not enjoy the same sociallevels as men. The AKP has not prepared anything formal to promotethe rights of women in Turkey.

Thecorruption has, to some extent prevented democracy in Turkey as well.When Erdogan came to power, he limited the military’s role inpolitics. During the first years of his rule, he honored democracy byadvancing judicial independence and the rule of law by a series ofamendments. However, when his inner circle was threatened withprosecution on corruption charges, Erdogan’s government brought thecourts back under the sway of the government through the introductionof the central administrative judiciary organ24.Such organ, reduced government accountability to voters thusprevented democracy. The central principle of liberal democracy isaccountability by the government to its citizens. To ensure this, ajustice system should be in place. The justice system should beseparate from the other governmental institutions and be free frombeing swayed by the political pressure in the country. However,Turkey does not have such as justice system in place. The primeminister has been able to effectively replace the rule of law withhis own order thus preventing democracy. For instance, the allegationof corruption reaching the highest echelons of government madeErdogan to increase the state’s powers to insult him and hisfriends from taking responsibility.

Inconclusion, despite Turkey`s sidelining of the military tutelage fromthe political system,the government has had several historical and structural shortcomingsthat have prevented Turkey from becoming a fully democratic state.The non-democraticaspects embedded in the country since its inception has perpetratedautocracy over democracy. Such aspects include the investment of morepowers to the state and less power on the citizens being governed.The state has continuously cracked down its critics starting from thecivil societies to the media. By ensuring control of the opposingside, the Turkish government has reduced the ability of the voters tomake an informed decision as well as the freedom of expressionpresent in every democracy. The lack of proper reformations on theinstitutions serving the old regime has also been a major structuralconstraint to democracy in Turkey. Corruption, lack ofaccountability, and political will has played a part in preventingdemocracy in the country. Additionally, the constitution does notoffer a framework democracy despite the various amendments. However,despite the several impediments to Turkish democracy, there is stillpotential for Turkey to achieve liberal democracy by enacting a newconstitution that gives the citizen power to make decisions throughtheir representatives. Lastly, the historical aspect of the Turkishpolitical system also provided a major basic point as theintellectuals made their view over the incoming readership by RecepTayyip Erdogan. This prevented them from adequately dressing thepresent matter and in turn missing the point with reference to themilitary tutelage.


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1 Satana, N. S. 2008. &quotTransformation of the Turkish Military and the Path to Democracy&quot. Armed Forces &amp Society 34 (3): 357-388.

2 Bechev, Dimitar. 2015. &quotThe Travail of Democracy in Turkey&quot. Accessed December 23. http://www.ispionline.it/it/EBook/TURKEY_2014/TURKEY_Cap.1_EBOOK%20(2).pdf

3 Ibid., 5

4 Caylak, Adem. 2008. &quotAutocratic or Democratic? A Critical Approach To Civil Society Movements In Turkey&quot. Journal of Economic And Social Research 10 (1): 115-151.

5 McLaren, Lauren, and Burak Cop. 2011. &quotThe Failure Of Democracy In Turkey: A Comparative Analysis&quot. Gov. &amp Oppos. 46 (04): 485-516.

6 Ibid., 1

7 Ibid., 3

8 Ghanim, David. 2009. &quot and Political Islam | Middle East Policy Council&quot. Mepc.Org. http://mepc.org/journal/middle-east-policy-archives/turkish-democracy-and-political-islam.

9 Hoxha, J. 2011. &quotBook Review: Islamism, Democracy And Liberalism In Turkey: The Case Of The AKP&quot. Party Politics 18 (1): 121-123.

10 Wright, Robin B. 2012. The Islamists Are Coming. Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson Center Press.

11 Taspinar, Omer. 2012. &quotIslamist Politics in Turkey: The New Model?&quot The Brookings Institution. http://www.brookings.edu/research/papers/2012/04/24-turkey-new-model-taspinar.

12 Winter, Chase. 2015. &quotTurkey after Elections: Autocracy or Democracy? | Europe | DW.COM | 03.11.2015&quot. DW.COM. http://www.dw.com/en/turkey-after-elections-autocracy-or-democracy/a-18824647

13 Ibid., 9

14 Ayoob, Mohammed. 2004. Turkey`s Multiple Paradoxes. Elsevier Limited on behalf of Foreign Policy Research Institute.

15 Ibid., 19

16 Satana, Nil. 2014. &quotCivilianization of Politics in Turkey | Middle East Institute&quot. Mei.Edu. http://www.mei.edu/content/civilianization-politics-turkey.

17 Carkoglu, Ali, and Ersin Kalaycioglu. 2007. Turkish Democracy Today. London: I.B, Tauris.

18 Ibid., 4

19 Ibid., 4

20 Daloglu, Tulin. 2014. &quotTurkey Grapples With Legality, Implications Of Internet Ban – Al-Monitor: The Pulse Of The Middle East&quot. Al-Monitor. http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2014/03/turkey-twitter-shutdown-internet-ban-legal-implications.html#.

21 Seufert, Ganter. 2014. &quotErdogan’s New Turkey Restoring The Authoritarian State In The Name Of Democracy&quot. https://www.swpberlin.org/fileadmin/contents/products/comments/2014C44_srt.pdf.

22 Akser, Murat, and Banu Baybars-Hawks. 2012. &quotMedia And Democracy In Turkey: Toward A Model Of Neoliberal Media Autocracy&quot. Middle East Journal Of Culture And Communication 5 (3): 302-321.

23 Ibid

24 Acemoglu, Daron. 2014. &quotThe Failed Autocrat&quot. Foreign Affairs.

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