The issue of democracy in Turkey
Bleibel, Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)

By 2013, former Prime Minister of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, currently President, stated: “In the last decade, we have provided extensive services, made large-scale investment and undertaken radical reforms, thanks to our un­failing love and devotion to our nation and country. Undoubtedly, democratic reforms are of unique and particular importance among the services that we have provided to our country in the last 10 years.”(1

If you consider the latest changes within Turkish boundaries critically, it is apparent that, indeed, reforms were a priority for the government. It simply followed the steps of democracy and human rights' motivations, the security paradigm and the priority of judicial reform. It promoted the implementation and strengthening of the expansion of cultural prospects,  as well as education and socio-economic fields which simultaneously were a priority for local governments.

In harmonising its domestic matters with the European Union‘s requirements and criteria and other international tendencies, steps that were taken forward were encompassing the Turkish Penal Code, counterterrorism, strengthening the principles of freedom of press, securing freedom of association, extension of the right to peaceful assembly, extension of freedom of organization concerning political parties, strengthening the right of defence, abolishment of the death penalty, just to name a few.

The most significant elements that were under the relevant spectrum of transformation were firstly the issue of the Kurdish minority in Turkey and the issue of the usage of headscarf, as it also involves religious nuances. In this context, it is fair to acknowledge that there was genuine political will to produce underlined changes within Turkish boundaries for better synergies and better opportunities for the society. Therefore, since 2002 when the centre-right, social conservative political party, AK Party represented the state by gaining the leadership framework with over two-thirds of parliamentary seats, Turkey began to be more stable and this internal strength brought with itself an economic boom which took the country to the status of competing with the most dynamically emerging markets worldwide, the MINT countries (Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey). Not stable enough, though.

Yet, in recent times, a significant shift has been experienced in Erdogan’s board policies which led the country to shaky foundations, a state of disarray that put into doubt the gains that were reached and implemented on domestic matters. As a contrast, in contemporary times, there is a real debate on whether Erdogan is becoming authoritarian and imposing a radical regime in contradition to democratic achievements reached so far...

As stated in Today’s Zaman by Amanda Paul: „Consequently, Erdoğan has lost all legitimacy with his blatant disrespect for the rule of law, and separation of powers, his neutering of the judiciary and backsliding on fundamental rights and freedoms. [...] today the prime minister has a rather strange view of what democratic rule is. In his eyes, democracy seems to begin and end at the election box. Hence with each election victory -- over his 11-year rule -- the prime minister has felt more and more powerful”. (2)

The item that must be closely followed up is the lack of political rotation and political competitiveness. For example, recent local elections in Turkey that were held on 30 March 2014, did nothing more than enhance the AK Party’s visibility but by its controversy. This year, the party increased its votes from 38.8 percent in the local elections in 2009 to 44.1 percent. This success might seem debatable, considering recent events within Turkey and mostly the violent steps that Erdogan took internally as elections processes went further on.

By March 20, 2014, Erdogan decided to ban Twitter’s activity in Turkey. The next step was banning YouTube by 28 of March 2014, amidst „national security concerns”. Turkey previously banned YouTube in 2007, but lifted the ban for three years.

In February, Istanbul and further on the national and international society was amazed by Erdogan’s reaction towards the death of Berkin Elvan, a child of 15 years old who was practically the victim of military’s intervention in Gezi park protests: „Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has added fuel to already high tensions in Turkey by suggesting that slain teenager Berkin Elvan was a member of a terrorist organization and defended police who killed him”. (3)

The well-known Gezi Park protests themselves represented a wake-up call for the international society. The already dynamic framework of Istanbul encountered, by December 2013, one of the most representative corruption scandals in which Erdogan and government’s key representatives were involved, most of them part of AK party itself.

Since winning the presidential elections of August 2014, Erdogan’s attitute prevailed even more the international headlines, in evaluating Turkey’s action towards the Syria crisis and the significant numbers of refugees currently living as „guests” within Turkey’s borders, as well as its position towards the huge threat imposed with the emerged of ISIS.

Choosing between point A and point B generally speaking is not easy. Choosing between modernity and traditionalism becomes a conundrum, choosing between reluctant politics or hiper-involvement relatively motivated with constantly authoritarian critiques is again something that Turkey tries to handle in such a way that the current balance will be maintained on a sustainable stage. At this point, in Turkey’s case, every decision  the state’s leaders choose to make has significant repercusions on a larger scale, covering a bigger wave first on a regional context given its strategic position but neverthless, also on the international level, given the interconnectivity and the functional network eastblished between the involved actors, rather dependent international context/globalised environment now existing.

Choosing in the name of democracy is even harder when there is no guarantee that it will be the best option and  mostly since democracy seems to have new interesting features under Erdogan’s parameters.Democracy itself, generally speaking now, seems to be taken new significance, seems to be adapting to new available tools of action, but that does not mean that its basic characteristic must be forgoten.

As a yabancı (eng. foreigner) who has been living in Istanbul for one year now, I would assume that the most significant, practically crucial element that defines the disorganisation and mismanagement of the current domestic situation could be represented by a single word: mosaic.

A very fragmented mosaic, mostly due to the different sights on Turkey’s profile and the road  it should be headed towards. It is about fragmentation in relation to which kind of reforms should be taken, in accordance to the actual need and actual priorities of the state. It is about fragmentation between the supporters and those who oppose PM Erdogan and the ruling party.  As mentioned before, one cannot neglect the contribution that the PM brought to the country. It would not be fair play to emphasise the contribution added by the AKP party to Turkey’s heritage. Yet, he seems to have felt the benefits that power brought with itself. Still, power brings with itself great responsibility as well. It’s called symbiosis.

I can only wish that those who have the power, with both rights and responsibilities, will redefine their position and take better decisions in the policy making processes domestically and on international shades as well as on personal choices.

Photo credits: Daily Star
Edited by
Réka Blazsek