As seen in several cases of democratic erosion, cunning politicians get publicly elected on a popular platform, and as soon as their shoes hit the floor of their shiny new office they change their entire platform. The president was democratically elected but is not following the ideals of their electorate. These politicians aren’t doing anything technically illegal, but they aren’t necessarily doing something democratically correct.
That is exactly what is going on in Turkey. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is implementing policies that counteract everything democracy stands for.
Let’s start by explaining what Erdogan has done while in office.
Erdogan changed his platform after being elected. He originally started his campaign as a traditional Islamist. Turkey had a tradition of military authoritarian and the Western world actually thought that Erdogan would stop the military from growing uncontrollably strong. Once in office, however, Erdogan immediately rebranded himself as a conservative democrat, and founded the Justice and Development party that focused on conservative social and moral issues.
Erdogan governed by decree, meaning that the executive branch overpassed both the legislative and the judicial branch in huge decisions.
- In 2010, he made a constitutional referendum that gave the executive branch (i.e him) more power over the judicial system. One of these powers that he gave himself was the ability to prosecute high-ranking officers in the military.
- In 2017 another decree disabled parliamentary opposition, making it illegal to for the legislative branch to investigate his branch of the government.
- The Erdogan government has also banned and unbanned (several times) quite a few Western informative websites, including Wikipedia, Twitter, Youtube and Facebook.
Erdogan limited both the freedom of the press and speech, VITAL components of democracy. Erdogan and his government have detained 50,000 journalists, and put 170,000 under investigation. Without the press exposing the president and making him accountable, the public is in the dark and the president is able to do as he pleases.
What does this mean?
Turkey is a clear case of executive aggrandizement. The elected executive (Erdogan) has weakened checks and balances for the other branches, and he has done this legally. That is one extremely important fact when talking about democratic erosion: everything is done legally, but finessed in a way the original writers of the law did not intend.
Massive street protests led by the people have been spouting all over Turkey, as the public felt cheated into voting for someone who betrayed their desired platform. Since journalists are being jailed and the internet is being censored, the public can not hold the president accountable. Knowledge is also power, and if the public dont know anything but government approved information, they are being robbed of democratic values that are so common in Western countries.
The public are not the only group in Turkey that want Erdogan out of power. Earlier we spoke about the military having a history of authoritarian control over Turkey. The military have attempted to oust Erdogan in an illegally military planned coup d’etat in 2016. It was extremely unsuccessful. Erdogan has used the coup as an excuse to get rid of his opposition by exiling and jailing all suspects, much to the dismay of the international community.
Erdogan also used the coup to help solidify his power and pushed his agenda. This can also be an effect of the public rallying around the flag, since citizens of Turkey do not want a Erdogan’s fake democracy, but would prefer it over a military autocracy.
Pure democracies pride themselves on separating religion and the state. One of Erdogan’s main political initiatives, however, is religion. The military was strictly secular, while Erdogan and his administration believe in “Islamism for power”. Most of the children in Turkey are going to religious schools and thousands of mosques have been built since Erdogan took power. This puts a damper on democracy because it might blacklist citizens that are not part of the Islamic faith. The power to choose is very vital in democracies, and any move to stop that harms citizens. There is also a common belief that Islam and democracy do not go well together. This is mostly thought because democracy allows certain ethical and moral objectives to thrive.
So what will happen to Turkey?
How much longer before democracy fades away?
How much longer before the military tries to interfere?
How much longer before the European Union or other international organizations interfere?
Like most cases of democratic erosion, who knows?
Photo by the Globe Post
Şenel, Ersin . “Turkey’s Democracy is dying- but this brutal crackdown can’t last.” The Guardian , 19 July 2017, www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jul/19/turkey-erdogan-turkish-democracy.