How can democracies survive and flourish? The question is interesting because so few have survived over the course of history. Our United States of America is a shining example of a democracy surviving and flourishing given our prominent position in the global spectrum. However, as we know, they’re are challenges almost daily to our way of government and if, in fact, we really are a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.
Levitsky and Ziblatt make it clear in “How Democracies Die,” that any one of four political decisions or maneuverers can signal a movement away from democracy. First, any rejection of democratic institutions like fair elections and due process, is a signal for potential democratic backsliding. Openly contesting opposition parties and denying their legitimacy also signals the potential erosion of democracy. Further, the reduction of civil liberties leads to a political numbness or less political activism by a constituency. Finally, the promotion of violence and the carrying out of violence against anyone with opposite political viewpoints is proof positive of despotism or at least the beginning of such a regime.
In the case of Turkey, a number of these elements have reared their head. Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has been under heavy scrutiny for a long time, so much so that the Turkish people actually planned a coup on the government in July of 2016. After the failed coup, Erdogan, saw it not only as an opportunity but as a mandate to increase his dominance and power.
A little background on Recep Tayyip Erdogan: although he publicly supports democracy, during his time as the Turkish leader, he has limited and/or completely restricted civil liberties and freedom of the press. He also has discredited many democratic institutions.
During the failed coup on July 15, 2016 against Erdogan and his government, over 200 people were killed and thousands were injured. (Washington post). The Turkish government attributed the unsuccessful coup attempt to Fethullah Gulen. Gulen, a Turkish preacher and businessman, is the head of a religious movement called “Hizmet.” Although blamed for the coup, Gulen has denied wrongdoing or active participation and in fact, says the coup was an inside job planned by Erdogan himself “to help him build a dictatorship.”
Referring back to Levitsky and Ziblatt’s commentary about the reduction of civil liberties, Turkey and Erdogan did exactly that. Just days after the coup, Turkey declared a state of emergency permitting the government to limit citizens’ rights. Weeks later, anything and everything that could be linked to Gulen was removed from a threatening position. Turkish courts placed thousands of people suspected of being associated with Gulen under arrest. They also suspended media outlets who were associated with the Hizmet movement. All as an attempt to silence any contrary sentiment to the existing government.
Although Turkey could argue that these arrests and suspensions are a necessary precaution to ensure the safety of Erdogan, there is also the feeling that this is an attempt to eradicate to any opposing viewpoint. Simply stated, “if you are not an advocate of Erdogan and the current regime, then you are not a good Turk.” (Washington post).
A further hit to democracy leading to its demise in Turkey is the constitutional referendum that was passed in April of 2017. The idea behind the referendum was to increase the power of Erdogan. What it did was eliminate the Prime minister position creating a president and vice president as well as a cabinet of which, Erdogan, will be able to select the members. The referendum also gives the president, Erdogan, the power to “appoint new ministers, prepare the budget, and choose the majority of senior judges and enact certain laws by decree.”(bbc.com) This power given to the president completely eliminates the possibility of checks and balances. Can you imagine a president being allowed to select judges at his whim? And if unhappy with a ruling by the selected judge, simply replacing him with another to get a more favorable ruling? The new referendum also allows the president, alone, to dissolve the parliament. If he can dissolve it, why have it? These three new provisions among others, are the reason many scholars are saying that this new referendum marks the end of democracy in Turkey.
The current path of Turkey does not look promising. Conflict is occurring with greater regularity both within the country and across borders. The more rebellion groups within Turkey continue to threaten the government, the more Erdogan the more he will have to keep increasing his power and dominance which can only serve as a destabilizing factor in the country as a whole. Ironically, Erdogan appears as the only person capable of keeping it together, and yet it is Erdogan who has put them on the brink of collapse. (Washington Post) The question will remain however; can Erdogan find democratic solutions or for democracy for return to Turkey, must Erdogan go?
Danforth, Nicholas. “Opinion | Turkish Democracy Might Be Dead – and Things Could Soon Get a Lot Worse.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 16 Aug. 2017, www.washingtonpost.com/news/democracy-post/wp/2017/08/16/turkish-democracy-might-be-dead-and-things-could-soon-get-a-lot-worse/?utm_term=.339dc86a3273.
Frum, David. “Why Do Democracies Fail?” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 20 June 2017, www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2017/06/why-do-democracies-fail/530949/.
Jazeera, Al. “Turkey’s Failed Coup Attempt: All You Need to Know.” Turkey News | Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, 15 July 2017, www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/12/turkey-failed-coup-attempt-161217032345594.html.
Tharoor, Ishaan. “Analysis | Turkey’s Erdogan Turned a Failed Coup into His Path to Greater Power.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 17 July 2017, www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2017/07/17/turkeys-erdogan-turned-a-failed-coup-into-his-path-to-greater-power/?utm_term=.a511729af2f9.
“Why Did Turkey Hold a Referendum?” BBC News, BBC, 16 Apr. 2017, www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-38883556.
Lust, Ellen & Waldner, David. 2015. Unwelcome Change: Understanding, Evaluating, and Extending Theories of Democratic Backsliding. Washington, DC: USAID.
SAMUEL ALEXANDER BROGADIR
These events in Turkey absolutely diminish the quality of their democracy. Any government policy that prohibits free speech is only a tactic to ensure public support and to deflect all potential accountability. This is the first sign of democratic backsliding. I am curious if the Turkish government ever ended the “state of emergency” that allowed them to revoke civil rights. This seems like an easy way to permanently gain more power and further suppress the opposition. After reading this I am not too optimistic that the Turkish democracy will survive. Once a government gains complete unchecked control, there is truly no saying what egregious policies they could implement. I assume in the coming years the Turkish government will transition to an authoritarian like government.
KATHERINE JULIANNE CLEMENT
I really enjoyed this post! The fact that you touched on the multiple factors that are currently threatening Turkey’s democratic status made it clear just how hard it will be for them to dig themselves out of their current state of affairs. It definitely seems like the root of Turkey’s problem is in its leadership, as Erdogan is manipulating almost everyone both within and outside of the government in an effort to garner more power. I did my report on Venezuela, and the president there similarly took advantage of a crisis as a means to take “necessary” measures and give himself more power than he would otherwise have- so it seems like crises are typically at the root of democratic backsliding in most nations.
BLAKE CHRISTIAN KAZARIAN
Erdogan has been a threat to democracy in Turkey since he came to power. Before him, Turkey actually was on its way to becoming democratic, and was likely to become an example for other nations in the Middle East to follow. Since he came to power, however, he’s split the people up so that they’re hostile to much of the western world, and really anyone who isn’t Turkish. This allows him to saw that anyone who is against him is not a true Turk, and therefore their rights can be limited. This is one of the more obvious ways that he’s hurt the democratic institutions in Turkey. The coup in 2016, and the actions he took afterwards, are what really cement him as an enemy to democracy. It’s impossible to say if he staged the coup himself, but it’s undeniable that he took advantage of it in order to massively increase his executive power and that of his administration. Only time will tell whether anyone can turn Turkey back onto the path of democracy.
I like your opening as it possesses a very valuable question; can a democracy really survive an prosper while undemocratic events are taking place? I did not know that Turkey was going from a democracy to what seems like an authoritative regime. Removing people’s civil rights such as the right to the press as mentioned and limiting their freedom of speech, is not democratic, in my opinion, because in a democracy people should have the right to express their grievances and things they don’t seem fit to their country. Also, as you mentioned, the violence that occurs when certain opposing political parties express their ideas is also not democratic as competition plays an important role in keeping democracy healthy and stable (contrasting political groups check and balance one another) This reminded me of Hitler and how he too used physical force and scare tactics and violence to get people to be on his side and to not go against him . It is scary when one group starts to gain a lot of power because certain minority groups get shunned out of conversations that affect them as well, but how do we take power from them?
ADJA MAGETTE HUDSON FAYE
You made a lot of interesting comments about Erdogan’s strategies to maintain power even after he was challenged an the attempted coup. I analyzed Venezuela and President Maduro, and I think that Maduro and Erdogan are very similar, especially in regard to their agendas and means of implementing it. Both him and Maduro made changes in the government to increase their power, imprisoned their opponents, restricted the media and press, and manipulated the courts. I also found similarities in your observations when you discussed the government’s behavior during the election. Similar to Erdogan establishing a state of emergency to suppress the rights of the people, Marudo moved the polls from heavily opposition supporting areas, so that people did not have easy access to vote. You stated that Erdogan’s regime arrested numerous people who were supporters of Gulen, which is similar to how Marudo arrested several leaders of the opposition in order to guarantee a more lucrative win in the 2017 election.
This is a well-written post and analysis of the implications of Erdogan’s actions in Turkey that are likely signs of democratic erosion. While I agree with most of what this post says in Erdogan’s reaction to a supposed coup and how that does not bode well for formal and informal democratic institutions within Turkey, I think it is also important to recognize how Erdogan’s intends to move Turkey away from a secular state to one that has Islam more deeply entrenched in its policies. Despite stating back in 2011 that he would support Egypt to become a secular state, it is clear that this is not the case within Turkey as he tries to appeal to the largely Sunni majority in his populace by passing legislation that generally helps Sunnis or gives them a more favorable impression in historical teachings to youth. In the case of Turkey, democratic erosion is happening not necessarily because of religious motivations, but instead those religious motivations are the justification for policies that result in democratic erosion that allow for the ruling party and Erdogan to continue to rule.
Your analysis of democratic erosion in Turkey using Levitsky and Ziblatt’s symptoms on when democracy dies is very informative. You started and ended your article with a thought-provoking questions. Questions full of optimism: a surviving and flourishing democracy and a question whether the person who caused the collapse will solve it thru self-sacrifice.
The identified event which is the failed coup in 2016 captured all four political decisions or maneuverers that can signal a movement away from democracy. In addition, here are some of significant events that shaped Turkey’s political landscape:
1. Although there is election in Turkey, many have come to question its quality, example, the November 2015 general elections was apparently fraudulent. Likewise, election alone is not a manifestation of democracy. In Turkey, what is observed is majoritarian democracy compromising liberal democracy. Furthermore, in terms of representation, only those parties which garnered 10% threshold may acquire a seat in the parliament. Recently, it was allowed that those unable to meet the required percentage may form coalitions.
There is no due process as evidenced by having pretrial detention, extrajudicial disappearances, and as a result of the failed coup, even those suspected were arrested.
2. The Justice and Development Party controls parliamentarian majority; they draw their mandate and legitimacy to govern to the classical doctrine of democracy which is the “will of the people.” In a democratic country, majority rules but minority must also be protected and respected.
3. Liberal democracy is undermined in Turkey; people are suppressed and repressed, the media is silenced, everyone is under suspicion (internet and surveillance laws), freedom is curtailed.
4. The Gezi Park Protest in 2013 and the failed coup in 2016 resulted to violence. Clashes erupted between the police and the protesters and coup plotters. The failed coup called counter-coup backfired when the government run after the perpetrators. Through emergency laws, Erdogan was able to arrest his political opponents. Erdogan blamed Fethullah Gullen, but according to Gullen, it was an inside job planned by Erdogan himself “to help him build a dictatorship.” Just like before the imposition of martial law in the Philippines, then Defense Minister Juan Ponce-Enrile’s assassination plot was used inorder to create an atmosphere of fear to justify Marcos’ declaration of martial law in the entire country.
Polarization is also manifested in Erdogan’s speech, “if you are not an advocate of Erdogan and the current regime, then you are not a good Turk,” creating an “us” versus “them” division.
All four maneuvers identified by Levitsky and Ziblatt are present in the country – I then conclude that democracy died in Turkey.