Pro-Kurdish parliamentarians being dragged into police cars, assassination attempts and police raids are taking place towards critical journalists, death-penalty is prepared to be introduced to the legal system and a purge against moderate Islamist groups is conducted… All signs show that, Turkey, a flawed but working multi-party democracy just a decade ago, is rapidly transforming into a one-party or even one-man state in the hands of President of the Republic Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Turkey’s democratic regime is now a controversy in the world if we look at the internationally accredited news agencies and websites. For instance, Mark Lowen from BBC rightfully asks “Is Turkey still a democracy?” and points out the rapid deterioration of democracy in this country, which was shown as a model for the Muslim world just a few years ago. Louis Fishman from Haaretz on the other hand claims that, Turkey is quickly becoming a one-party state in recent months. In addition, Aslı Aydıntaşbaş, in her article “Turkey was once a free society. Now the country is rapidly destroying itself.” published in The Washington Post asserts that, Turkey is destroying its democracy itself and is dragged into Middle Eastern vortex of authoritarianism, militias, and sectarian and ethnic conflicts in the last few years. Christophe Regnard, President of the International Association of Judges (IAJ) writes that, Turkey does not even meet the basic criterion for the “rule of law” with its increasingly politicized judicial system.
Critics towards Turkey is not limited to foreign press. European leaders also express their concerns about the negative democratic trend in this country. Angela Merkel from Germany, Matteo Renzi from Italy, Jean Asselborn from Luxembourg and Sebastian Kurz from Austria are just few examples of these critics coming from European leaders. In response, President Erdoğan says he does not care about these critics and he advises international journalists and leaders to mind their own business. It is a fact that some of these critics might aim to constitute a negative image of Turkey in the international press; but if nearly all European leaders and newspapers criticize the government, isn't it more rational to make a self-criticism about Turkish democracy?
Unfortunately, the governing Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) seems to have lost its dynamism and intra-party democracy and no voice other than President Erdoğan’s could be heard in the public. The party could not even tolerate its founder and Turkey’s previous President of the Republic Mr. Abdullah Gül, a rare democratic figure in Turkey’s Islamist movement. The party recently removed Mr. Gül’s name from the list of founding members in party’s website. The party’s first Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr. Yaşar Yakış, a respected center-right figure, was also expelled from the party. These are clear evidences of approaching one-man regime in Turkey, a country that has been governed by a party that could not even tolerate its own members and ministers if they start criticizing some of the policies of their government.
Last week, the World Justice Project’s rule of law index placed Turkey at the 99th place out of 113 countries, just behind Iran and Myanmar. In addition, The Legatum Institute put Turkey at the 78th place out of 149 countries. Last year, Freedom House also listed Turkey as a “partly free” country. Can we claim that all of these statistics are wrong and President Erdoğan is still doing a good job? It is a fact that Erdoğan did many good things in the past, especially between 2002 and 2007, but he seems to have stopped following democratic ideals for nearly a decade and he has been pushing for a dictatorial regime. Until now, many party members and pro-Islamic journalists were defending him by pointing out his electoral successes. But now, since HDP members are arrested and other political parties and their members live under great fear, we cannot talk about democratic elections anymore.
Then, why President Erdoğan is doing this? It should not be forgotten that Erdoğan is a lonely man living in a luxurious palace encircled by Islamist advisers. He does not have direct contact with Turkish people anymore and he really thinks that things are going well for Turkey. Unfortunately, this is not the real case in Turkey. Turkish economy is not going well this year, Turkish foreign policy is in ruins and the worst of all things, there is still not an alternative to Erdoğan’s regime. Oppositional parties are weak and not ambitious enough to govern Turkey. The military is not a political actor anymore (this might be considered as a good development normally) and civilian supremacy is internalized by the very high majority of people after the failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016. The business world (TÜSİAD and other business-oriented ngos) in Turkey seems to favor its business interests more than civilian liberties and democracy.
Then, who could counter balance Erdoğan’s power? Unfortunately, unless there is a real political challenger (pro-secular CHP and pro-Kurdish HDP are still the only two potential actors) to Erdoğan’s power, he will continue to establish a more authoritarian rule day by day. However, Turkish people is the real responsible actor for this dangerous journey since they voted strongly in favor of Erdoğan and his party although many experts and scientists warned about the dangers especially after 2010. It is sad to confess, but to be honest, Turkish people proved that they do not deserve democracy.
Dr. Ozan ÖRMECİ