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Analysis

November 19, 2012

Summary: It seems that all elements of democracy are present in Turkey but many not at sufficient levels to call that country a fully functioning democracy. There are a number of democracy and human rights-related areas in which Turkeys performance has been less than satisfactory. Although the power of the Turkish government is far from being absolute, the absence of an effective opposition has meant that it feels less constrained in its actions. Rather than characterizing democracy as a system of limited government, checks, and balances, the AKP leadership seems to feel that achieving an electoral majority gives them the power to rule in ways they deem appropriate.

Turkeys Diminutive Democracy


by Ilter Turan

OffiCes Washington, DC Berlin Paris Brussels Belgrade Ankara Bucharest Warsaw

Among students of democracy, there is a never-ending debate as regards whether the so-called diminutive forms of democracy should in fact be counted as democracy. The purists who conceptualize democracy as a package that brings together several attributes, each of which constitutes a necessary condition for the presence and the operation of a democratic system, argue that if any of the attributes is lacking, then the system loses its democratic character and should therefore not be called a democracy. Those defending a more flexible approach, on the other hand, argue that if some attributes of democracy are not fully present in a political system, then it may be characterized as diminutive democracy. Turkey may constitute evidence supporting those who subscribe to the notion of diminutive democracy. It seems that all elements of democracy are present in Turkey but many not at sufficient levels to call that country a fully functioning democracy. Freedom House classifies Turkeys government as a partly free system. Turkey then may be best characterized as a partial democracy.

The Origins of Turkeys Democracy The Turkish republic made a transition to competitive politics after World War II. Although some domestic socioeconomic and political conditions also favored such a transition, it is generally thought that security considerations were paramount. A new, bipolar world was in the making. The Soviets had made some hostile demands on Turkey. The move toward democratization was initiated to open the way to becoming a part of the U.S.-led Free World. Ever since that initial transition, external considerations have played an important role in the democratic governance of Turkey. One of the major factors that has contributed to the peaceful exit of the military from politics after direct (1960 and 1980) and indirect (1971) interventions was Turkeys close links with Western Europe and the United States. In this context, the association with the European Economic Community, which led to an invitation to commence with accession negotiations with the EU in 2004, was clearly a major driving factor. More generally, the democratic impetus in Turkish politics was closely linked to the presence of external

Analysis
anchors that encouraged and helped legitimize democratic change while checking challenges to competitive politics and helping restore it when temporarily interrupted. Democratic Tutelage and Its Erosion The major challenge to the democratic system was a product of Turkish modernization. The Turkish Revolution originated from above, from a well-entrenched elite in the state apparatus that wanted to make sure that its modernizing achievements would not be dismantled by elected politicians. To that end, a number of safeguards were built into the constitutional and legal system, the strongest of which was a constitutional court that could close down political parties that undermined the fundamental values of the republic (read laicism) and a military that acted as a veto group to determine the limits within which civilian politics could operate, intervening directly or indirectly when elected governments veered off course. relationship with the EU constrained Turkish governments from treading un-democratic paths. The Justice and Development Party (AKP) ascended to power in 2002 in an environment that was considerably more liberal than that of the 1980s. The electoral majority it achieved was impressive, while the opposition was weak and fragmented. The state institutions that were intended to check the excesses of elected politicians were in place, but exhausted and demoralized. An attempt to close down AKP for using religion for political ends failed in the Constitutional Court. After agonizing, Turkey accepted the invitation of the EU to begin accession negotiations for membership. This marked a new period in Turkeys democratization, as the EU membership process brought with it a set of conditionalities regarding an operating democratic system and strict observation of human rights. The EU would issue annual progress reports to measure Turkeys progress. The AKP government seemed motivated to implement reforms in order to conform to EU standards. A common complaint emanating from the EU was the lack of democratic control of the armed forces. Despite the increasing democratization of society, the Turkish military had continued to retain its autonomy and occasionally issued statements to guide elected governments and limit their options. Relying on its strong parliamentary majority and legitimizing its actions by an obligation to meet the EU conditionalities, the AKP government began to slowly dismantle the instruments through which the military exercised influence in the governing process. For example, the military judge in the national security courts was removed. Later the courts originally devised by the military were disbanded. The military representatives in other institutions such as the Council on Higher Education were eliminated. Efforts to achieve democratic control of the armed forces gained new ground beginning in 2008 through a series of cases in which public prosecutors took some military leaders and officers to court alleging that they had organized plots and conspired to organize a military takeover. A number of high-ranking retired commanders and later some high- and middle-ranking officers on active duty were arrested and jailed. The judicial process is still ongoing, and the few verdicts that have been produced so far are under appeal. There is no question, however, that the military

The major challenge to the democratic system was a product of Turkish modernization.
After the decision of the Turkish government to shift from import substitution-oriented industrialization to export-led growth in 1980, the ensuing transformation of the Turkish economy and the end of the Cold War gradually produced a shift in the power configuration in Turkish politics and the international environment in which it operated. Firstly, society become stronger vis a vis the state. Civil society organizations not dependent on the state proliferated and began to make claims on the state. Second, the end of the Cold War reduced domestic security concerns producing a more liberal political atmosphere. Third, the end of the bipolar world and the ascendance of democracies made it difficult for non-democratic forms of government to receive international toleration in return for contributing to the security of the Western Bloc. Fourth, the integration of the Turkish economy to the international and its growing complexity rendered direct military intervention a risky proposition for the generals. And finally, Turkeys evolving

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is no longer able to exercise autonomy and challenge the supremacy of elected governments. From Democratization to Growing Authoritarianism This might lead the reader to think that Turkey has been moving consistently toward greater democratization and democratic consolidation. That, unfortunately, is not an accurate description. The EUs Progress Report of 2012 observes that there are a number of democracy and human rights-related areas in which Turkeys performance has been less than satisfactory. The freedom of the press is under pressure, with dozens of journalists in prison, accused, or already convicted of assisting or committing acts of terrorism by their writings. There are limitations placed on the freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. Though declining, torture continues to be practiced by law enforcement authorities. There continue to be challenges to freedom of belief. There are questions regarding the extent to which the principle of the rule of law is observed in government operations and in the court system. The Turkish government has reacted with indignation to the Progress Report, saying it is unfair and partial. It has indicated that the report would not receive serious consideration. The head of the parliaments Constitution Committee has publicly thrown it into a waste basket. This is surprising for a country whose prime minister has recently reaffirmed his countrys determination to become a member of the EU, promising that Turkey would continue to implement the reforms needed to be undertaken to meet conditionalities for membership. It might have been understandable if it had been said that the report had failed to show sufficient appreciation for Turkeys efforts but that Turkey would continue its efforts to meet the Copenhagen criteria. Rather, what has been communicated suggests the political leaderships disregard for the report. The Progress Report has summarized a general concern with a decline in the countrys democratic performance and a growing authoritarianism on the part of the government. The concern is not limited to the EU but also frequently expressed in domestic political debate by opposition parties and independent observers. What is happening and why? The Building Blocs of Turkeys Diminutive Democracy Recalling Lord Actons dictum Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, it may be pointed out that the Achilles heel of Turkeys democracy is the lack of a sufficiently credible opposition, that is, an opposition that may present the government with the possibility of replacement it at the next elections. Although the power of the Turkish government is far from being absolute, the absence of an effective opposition has meant that it feels less constrained in its actions. This proclivity to discount opposition is confounded by a highly majoritarian interpretation of democracy by many among the AKP leadership. Rather than characterizing democracy as a system of limited government, checks, and balances, the AKP leadership seems to feel that achieving an electoral majority gives them the power to rule in ways they deem appropriate. Using this line of thinking, any opposition may easily come to be seen as mere obstruction both in parliament and public life. For example, recently the opportunities for the opposition to debate bills in committees were significantly curtailed when the government wanted bills on bringing changes to the primary and secondary education rushed through the parliament. Public demonstrations of political disapproval are nowadays often restricted and its perpetrators taken to court. Again, to cite an example, students who demonstrated against tuition charges at public universities are being tried, and public prosecutors have asked for severe sentences. Police brutality in dealing with demonstrators is commonplace. The Kemalist state had made the courts, the universities, and the military all pillars of a state tutelage over elected politicians. Such tutelage has now ended. Some observers, however, express concern that rather than deepening Turkish democracy, the changes are giving way to a system not unlike the one that is being replaced, except for the fact

Any opposition may easily come to be seen as mere obstruction both in parliament and public life.

Analysis
that the military is now neutralized. The universities are currently run by a Council and a set of university presidents that are close to the government in their political orientation and behavior. A constitutional change in 2010 enhanced the influence of the government in the appointment of judges and public prosecutors. Coupled with the introduction of specially empowered prosecutors, this has rendered the judiciary more sensitive to governmental concerns. Furthermore, as the EU progress report also notes, court decisions regarding the rights of the defendants, the nature of admissible evidence, the duration of the court proceedings and a host of other related developments have raised questions about the strictness with which the principle of the rule of law is observed in current operations of the government and the judiciary. Turkish Democracy: Advancing or Diminishing? Thinking probably along majoritarian lines, the government characterizes Turkey as having reached a state of advanced democracy. Those who already feel that there is growing authoritarianism in the country, on the other hand, view with suspicion the actions of the government to change boundaries of local governments for political gain without consulting the resident populations, the speeches of the prime minister arguing that the return of capital punishment is desirable, and the tendency of the government to treat Kurdish demands for ethnic recognition as mainly a law and order problem rather than as a demand for greater pluralism. The addition to the debate of the transformation of the Turkish political system along presidential lines have only served to heighten concerns that what is intended may be no more than a strong-man majoritarian system without sufficient checks. Turkeys democracy is already diminutive in form. There are understandable concerns that its democratic aspects may well be diminishing.

About the Author


lter Turan is a professor of political science at Istanbuls Bilgi University, where he also served as president between 1998-2001. His previous employment included professorships at Ko University (1993-1998) and Istanbul University (1964-1993), where he also served as the chair of the International Relations Department (19871993), and the director of the Center for the Study of the Balkans and the Middle East (1985-1993). Dr. Turan is the past president of the Turkish Political Science Association and has been a member of the Executive Committee and a vice president of the International Political Science Association (2000-2006). He is a frequent commentator on Turkish politics on TV and newspapers.

About GMF
The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) strengthens transatlantic cooperation on regional, national, and global challenges and opportunities in the spirit of the Marshall Plan. GMF does this by supporting individuals and institutions working in the transatlantic sphere, by convening leaders and members of the policy and business communities, by contributing research and analysis on transatlantic topics, and by providing exchange opportunities to foster renewed commitment to the transatlantic relationship. In addition, GMF supports a number of initiatives to strengthen democracies. Founded in 1972 as a non-partisan, non-profit organization through a gift from Germany as a permanent memorial to Marshall Plan assistance, GMF maintains a strong presence on both sides of the Atlantic. In addition to its headquarters in Washington, DC, GMF has seven offices in Europe: Berlin, Paris, Brussels, Belgrade, Ankara, Bucharest, and Warsaw. GMF also has smaller representations in Bratislava, Turin, and Stockholm.

About the On Turkey Series


GMFs On Turkey is an ongoing series of analysis briefs about Turkeys current political situation and its future. GMF provides regular analysis briefs by leading Turkish, European, and American writers and intellectuals, with a focus on dispatches from on-the-ground Turkish observers. To access the latest briefs, please visit our web site at www. gmfus.org/turkey or subscribe to our mailing list at http://database. gmfus.org/reaction.