Turkey Inclining Towards Despotism

Pierre Rosanvallon is a reputed French intellectual and historian. He thinks that the principal social scourge threatening contemporary democratic societies is a new phenomenon: “elected despotism.” Actually, at the beginning of the 21st century, this new kind of authoritarianism is replacing the ideological totalitarianisms that tainted the past century.

Unfortunately, Europe provides us with plenty of examples proving this statement. One should just recall “POE” to easily keep in mind the mentioned fact. Without defaming the respectable memory of Edgar Allan Poe, the famous American author and poet, we use “POE” to recall the names of three contemporary authoritarian politicians: Putin, Orban, and Erdoğan.


These three personalities display common peculiarities. All have been elected in their respective countries by 50 percent of the votes or more. They all dominate countries that have never really been acquainted with genuine democracy, giving rise to a sort of “majority cult.” All three are intending to keep power for a long period of time, enough time to completely transform their societies in a conservative way, while also settling the structures of a completely liberal economy. What’s more, they are all ready to overstep democratic limits for the realization of their purpose.

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is presently putting his priority on his own personal career as the “future president of Turkey.” In this, he is trying to make the necessary legal changes in order to transform the current parliamentary democracy into a presidential system. He is not content with the constitutional possibilities ensured by a parliamentary democracy, but wants more and more.

After having presumably settled the constitutional frame of a presidential system, Erdo€an will rely on an absolute majority. Facing the determined opposition of left-oriented voters, secularists and progressives, he needs to rally the nationalist, rightist and reactionary electorate, which tends toward the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). Erdoğan does not hesitate, for his personal political ambition, to attempt to restore capital punishment, keeping in mind the electorate that has long sought the execution of Abdullah Öcalan, leader of the rebel Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), who was captured and imprisoned in 1999. Erdoğan does not seem to be concerned about Turkey’s commitments toward the EU, for which it has been declared an “accession candidate.”

Meanwhile, municipal territories have recently been readjusted over one night in parliament, in conformity with Erdoğan’s command. This was done in such a way that AKP will win more municipalities with the same share of the vote nationwide. Nowadays every single AKP member of parliament or AKP delegate is aimed at paving Erdoğan’s path to the presidency.

When it comes to AKP’s efforts to transform Turkey into a deeply conservative, Islamic country, one may also mention the upside down change to the current educational system. The related laws to achieving this were also passed over one night without parliamentary deliberation. The opposition was physically kept away and had no opportunity to take part in the process. In “Democratic Establishments: A Dimensional Analysis,” well-known Italian political scientist Leonardo Morlino asserts that a democracy presupposes the existence of the opposition and of common consent, according to which conflicts of interest do not always come out in favor of the same groups (i.e. of the majority). “Democracy” is a system that produces a political environment of definiteness, but the decisions that are taken in such an atmosphere should not be definite and known in advance. AKP’s Turkey displays an example to the contrary.

Setting up the AKP’s rule necessarily involves the depreciation and denigration of the settled republican values. Thus, citizens eager to celebrate the anniversary of the foundation of the Republic, or those willing to commemorate the anniversary of Atatürk’s death, have recently been violently blocked by the police.

There is no need to mention AKP’s long and successful efforts leading to the submission of the judiciary to the executive. Worldwide public opinion is aware of the situation, as well as of the existence of numerous journalists jailed only because of their journalistic activities.

Turkish democrats feel frustrated, because AKP was backed by Turkey’s western allies over the past decade. In actual fact, Erdoğan considers democracy to be simply a means of transportation and, according to his own statement, one can “get off after arrival at the destination.” Indeed, Turkey is set to arrive at this envisioned destination. 

About Aydιn Cıngı

Political scientist, founder and former chairman of Social Democracy Foundation