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.