An Authoritarian Approach: The Case Of The AKP


Taking the previous right-leaning parties as their model, the AKP takes more steps toward authoritarianism than its predecessors.




Turkey is among the world’s young democratic countries and that democracy brings with it the election system. Voters perceive they hold the power because they are able to determine major government bodies, such as Parliament and the Cabinet. In the 1950’s, Turkey elevated its democratic system to a “multi-party system.” Officials amended the Republicans People’s Party (CHP), the singular political party of the time, when Turkey decided to launch itself in the western democratic system in order to become an ally of the United States and a NATO member. However, the Turkish Constitution was not converted on fundamental human rights and the election law was not adopted for a democratic representation. But a new party emerged. The Democratic Party’s (DP) opposition years passed by demanding democratic rights. Known as the “Turkish liberals,” the DP’s ruling decade concluded with a new authoritarian system, which came as a surprise.

The CHP declared a “primary targets declaration” in the 1958 Convention and called for democratic demands, some of which were free radio, academic autonomy, free press, proportional election system, constitutional judiciary, a twin wing parliament and separation of powers. With these demands the CHP began to make an opening to the left. During the time the DP became more like an authoritarian party. The “primary targets declaration” demands were realized after the May 27, 1960, military coup and was added to the new Constitution.  A military junta’s approach could not be the guarantee of a democratic system and could not be realized. The following military coups’ interventions disqualified the 1961 Constitution.


The current leading party, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) takes its political origins from the DP and the Motherland Party (ANAP). With another expression, the AKP leader shows his similarity to the then leaders of Turkey: Adnan Menderes and Turgut Özal. The Turkish Right’s political behavior seemed to reflect a “majoritarian-authoritarian- regime” under the title of “democracy and national willpower.” Roussau’s “absolute and un-separated national willpower” is described in the context of a “singular wing parliament,” sometimes with a “majoritarian electoral system,” and “high electoral thresholds.” In this sense the majority is consecrated with these tools. This type of “majority outlook” foresees the use of sovereignty not through institutions but through charismatic leaders. It also grounds the approach from “national willpower.” The 1982 Constitution was made by another junta and thus the Senate was abolished. So collecting the powers into one hand was facilitated. The constitutional judiciary’s situation remained the same, but the main cause was not democracy. Instead it targeted to sustain military tutelage with constitutional judiciary.

The Menderes-Özal-Erdoğan axis has a common infrastructure that reflects market-oriented authoritarianism. Journalist Tanıl Bora describes the Turkish Right political movement in the shadow of nationalism, conservatism and religion: in this context Islamism. According to Bora, these movements outline the Turkish Rights’s movement.

Majoritarian authoritarianism, on the other hand, verbalizes itself in different cases and at the same time uses populist democracy to cover its structure. Rightist ruling parties prefer a representative system versus political participation and also prefer holiness to “national willpower,” thus they render their power untouchable. On the other hand, the Rightist parties exhibit collateral approaches to liberalism.

As we have mentioned, the DP was founded when the American press called the country’s founders “Turkish liberals.” Özal’s ANAP, however, was ambitious on economic liberalism but not on political liberalism. Both the DP and ANAP evaluated liberalism as unfavorable in their ruling times. The Social Democracy/Democratic Left movement that became massive in the late 1960’s and 1970’s was perceived as a huge setback.

The AKP’s characteristic is different from the classical DP-ANAP axis. It has an Islamic core and aside from authoritarianism makes functional a hegemonic infrastructure. In this regard, the AKP became more powerful than its predecessors. When the AKP came to power, even leftist-origin liberals applauded their “EU accession process” and “democratization” headlines. However, during the AKP’s second and third terms in power they were left more and more alone.


Among notable authoritarian actions, one could classify the critical approach against judicial cases that was realized with collective arrests and ODTU students’ reactions. The asymmetric coalition among the AKP-Gulen community prevents administrational responsibility. The two partners load the responsibility to each other. So the conclusion blocks accountability and transparency. Struggle with fictional forces delay democratic politics.

Social democracy has four main blocks, including political democracy, social democracy, economic democracy and cultural democracy. An exclusive feature of social democracy is that it does not see democracy as a tool but as the main object. It’s not a wishful thinking but what shapes the very existence of social democracy and its development cause.

As we all know, the social democracy principle gives “priority to the citizen,” which stands against authoritarian power and discrimination of social classes, identities, gender and hate discourse.  In Turkey, it is highly expected that by 2014 local elections and presidential elections could be converted into referendums, which is an important sign of majoritarian and authoritarian approaches. For a sustainable democracy, it is essential that democratic forces must struggle and persuade the voters that “another world is possible.”

About Deniz Tansi

Yeditepe University Economic and Administrative Sciences Faculty Public Administration Department