Turkey as a Democracy on Account of Constitutional Reforms

The republic of Turkey is a transcontinental country located in Western Asia which until the 1950’s was an authoritarian, or one party state. It was authoritarian presidential regime founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk who made way for a multi-party political system. Although in many other countries this transition in which an authoritarian single party hands over their power to another party through free elections has been accompanied by revolution, terrorism, and bloodshed, Turkey surprisingly had a very peaceful transition. This was possible due to the fact that the ground for democracy had been prepared due to successive reforms over the past one hundred years, alongside the fact that their social structure was favorable.

This election of the Democratic party in May 1950 was the first win for a non-CHP party. Within the first few years the government of Adnan Menderes was quite successful seeing that they lessened restrictions on Islam as well as the economy picking up. But, the economy soon began to fail and the government implemented censorship laws which limited the people’s ability to freely express their opinions or beliefs. The government also began to suffer from inflation and excessive debt. On May 27, 1960 a military coup d’etat was initiated which resulted in the removal of president Celal Bayar and prime minister Menderes.

The country soon retracted back to civilian control in 1961. The coup resulted in a series of unstable government coalitions with the justice party on the right and the Republic people’s party on the left. In 1971 the army issue a memorandum which led to another coup and ultimately the fall of the Demirel government and establishment of interim governments. This broken political system and weakening economy led to an excess of violence between ultranationalists and communists and ultimately some 5,000 deaths in the late 1970’s. Another coup soon arose in 1980 which led to political system coming under the Motherland Party. After a longhaul of coups and risings of new governments, the Democratic left party and the Nationalist movement party came together to form a government which was moderately effective. This didn’t last long as economic shocks led to new elections in 2002 which brought the Justice and Development party into power. Recep Tayip Erdogan came into office as prime minister which would soon become Turkeys turning point for democratic decline.

With Erdogan in office, he tried to get rid of Secularists who believed they operated a “deep state”. From 2010 to 2012 he enforced judicial proceedings against hundreds of police, judicial officials, military members, academics, and journalists for plotting against the government. This was seen as a legitimate effort to strengthen the government although the trials ended up being based on fabricated evidence. Police prosecutors soon launched corruption investigations which led to the closing of Gulenist newspapers and tv stations, seized companies belonging to Gulens supporters, and purged hundreds of government officials. All of which had a weakening effect on civil society. A response to this violent crackdown by police as well as concerns on government limits on civil liberties was the Gezi Park Protests of May 2013 which was a crucial turning point for Turkish democracy. Again in July of 2016, there was a coup attempt but all the political parties and Turkish civil society rejected it as an assault on Turkey’s democracy.

The government broke the law and sacked public sector employees who were thought to be Gulenists. The country was soon declared a state of emergency which narrowed space for dissent, reduced press freedom, and diminished confidence in state institutions. This was soon lifted in July 2018 and a new “anti-terror” bill was implemented that resulted in more than 110,000 people from public-sector positions being dismissed, and 60,000 people arrested by the end of the year. A number of human rights activists were even arrested on terrorist charges. Erdogan’s rule also weakened Turkey as a democracy on account of constitutional reforms. With Erdogan’s de facto pres rule beginning on April 16,2017 citizens soon voted on measures which shifted the political system to a presidential party which eliminated the prime minister and placed the president as head of the ruling party. There were also many new powers given to the president such as the right to issue decrees, proposed national budget, appoint cabinet ministers and senior officials, as well as appoint members of high courts.

This soon led to a weakening of the Turkish military as Erdogan appointed his former chief of staff as defense minister as well as provided himself the power to manage military promotions. Police were soon equipped with heavy arms, brought under close government control, and required to adopt religious practices. The Ministry of foreign affairs soon lost influence in forming and implementing policy because Erdogan formed his own team. Another cause of democratic decline which resulted from Erdogan’s ruling was that of attacks on media freedom. Pro-government establishments soon began to dominate the media scene and certain social media websites like Wikipedia and Twitter were blocked. People were also prosecuted for their postings and Turkey soon became the world’s top jailer for journalists.

The government also began penalizing any reporting of activity related to government security measures and Kurdistan workers party (PKK). Another influencer of democratic decline was that of weak opposition. Erdogan emphasized Islam and Turkish nationalism which depend Turkey’s societal polarization in regards to conservative-religious and secular-modern lines. This complicated efforts to defend democratic values. Lastly, there were flawed elections. Opposition parties accused Erdogan of breaching constitutional rules against partisan activity. In April 2017 the organization for security council and co-operation in Europe criticized the government’s use of state resources to slant coverage in its favor. Supreme Electoral Council reinterpretation of election bylaws also allowed inclusion of ballots without authenticating stamps which enabled ballot stuffing. All of this corruption soon got the ball rolling for Turkey’s democratic decline.

Two prominent causes for Turkeys democratic decline was that of the functioning of the government and rule of law. When looking at the governments function, a well established democracy has freely elected heads of government and national legislative representatives determining the policies of the government. But, in Turkey’s case President Erdogan and his inner circle make the prominent political decisions. The state of emergency also allows him the authority to suspend civil liberties and issue decrees without oversight from the constitutional court. Functioning democracies also have safeguards against official corruption. In this time Turkey is immensely corrupt as there is money laundering, bribery, and collision in the allocation of government contracts. Since the coup there has been an increase in corruption opportunities due to the mass expropriation of targeted businesses and nongovernmental organizations.

Billions of dollars are also being managed by government appointed trustees which has resulted in ties between the government and friendly businesses. Lastly in regards to the functioning of the government, a successful democracy has a government which operates with openness and transparency. In Turkeys case the purge and state of emergency have led to ordinary democratic oversight being impossible. The state of emergency has also given the government almost unlimited discretionary powers which has led to a withhold of information on activities of state officials and institutions. Lastly external monitors are subject to arrest and prosecution if they to expose government wrongdoing. In regards to rule of law, a successful democracy will have an independent judiciary. In Turkey judicial independence is severely weakened. Erdogan soon appointed thousands of new loyalist judges as well as placed costs on ruling against the executive.

With this more than 4,000 judges have been removed and judges and trials in high-profile cases are transferred to ensure government’s arguments are presented. A thriving democracy also has due process which prevails in civil and criminal matters. Turkey has long term erosion of due process as seen by the fact that anti-terrorism charges rely on the weakest of circumstantial evidence, secret testimony, and guilt by association. The decree in 2017 also removed the requirement that defendants hear all evidence brought against them as well as having an attorney present. It is also seen that there is no protection from illegitimate use of physical force in Turkey as there has been an increase in torture and an emergency decree in December 2017 granted legal immunity to anyone who takes action against terrorists or those associated with the coup. Lastly, Turkeys laws, policies, and practices don’t guaranteed equal treatment. This is seen as women and ethnic and religious minority face discrimination. Turkey also accepted more than 3.4 million Syrian refugees but neglected to provide them with education or employment access. Lastly, same-sex activity is subject to discrimination, police harassment, and violence with no legislation to protect them.

Ultimately, Turkey failed in being a successful democracy seeing that the functioning of the government is corrupt and the president has full control with no external interruption as well as a judicial system in which those on top hold the power to sway decisions.