Emre Erdoğan, Professor, Bilgi University, Istanbul 1/21/14
For those who aren’t interested in domestic politics of countries, let me inform you: Something strange is happening in Turkey. We’re experiencing a causeless, unexpected and damaging political crisis since late 2013. Let’s summarize: By December 17th, some political actors and their relatives were accused of being involved in a huge corruption network mainly related to money transfers to Iran through a state bank. The government framed these allegations as an attempted political coup against them and reacted by intervening with the police force and prosecutors. For example, more than 2000 policemen (1% of total police force) were transferred to other posts and the judicial hierarchy was changed. According to government circles, all these corruption allegations — coupled with tapes and other evidence — is a conspiracy organized by a “parallel” state organization under the control of the religious sect Gülen Movement.
During the political crisis, Turkish currency devaluated by 22% and the Istanbul Stock Exchange dropped 16%. Political costs are generally intangible, but their impact won’t be lower than economic ones. Journalists and political analysts are pondering reasons for this political crisis — ten or a hundred years from now, the present day will be very interesting for Turkish history scholars. But, as a student of political science advocating the importance of spatial-temporal validity of analyses, there are lessons to be drawn from this crisis for other polities and humanity: the importance of political institutions. Remember the good old days of the Third Wave in 1990s, when the Cold War finished and most ex-Communist countries were becoming democracies? There was general optimism about the future, causing some influential thinkers to advocate for the victory of liberalism and “the end of history”. However, some very pessimist political scientists warned us about the meaning of democracy, as something bigger than elections. Guillermo O’Donnell, inventor of “Bureaucratic Authoritarianism”, depicted a new animal called “delegative democracy”. This type of democracy is characterized as follows:
In this type of political regime, the leader is only responsible to voters and a simple majority of votes is accepted as a basis for legitimacy. As stated above, horizontal accountability is not necessary and there are examples how the leader receives the support of populace in his fight with institutions of the “ancient” regime of oligarchs, leading examples are Fujimori of Peru and Putin of Russia. Although Ergun Özbudun, a prominent political scientist, defined Turkey as a “delegative democracy” in 2000 our success in only fulfilling minimal definition of democracy and democratization of the system during the last decade created an illusion. Now’s a good time to consider how Turkey became a delegative democracy. The recipe for transition to delegative democracy is very easy. If a country experiences a long term of economic and political instability, problems are attributed to incompetence of political actors or failure of political institutions. Turkey experienced a long decade of instability during the 1970s characterized with intense political violence and enduring economic crisis. During this period of instability, Turkey was governed by seven governments in seven years. When the parliament failed to elect a president after 124 turns, the military intervened and controlled the country for three years. The Generals rule was characterized with depoliticizing the country, coupled with the strict implementation of the stability measures of the Washington Consensus. Horizontal checks and balances mechanisms were abolished and the judiciary was placed under control of the government.
This institutional design didn’t work. After one silent election, Turkey started to experience another period of political and economic instability. During the 1990s, terrorist activities of the separatist Kurdish movement spread to big cities, average inflation was 60% and 10 different governments ruled Turkey during 10 years. By 2002, Turkey was under the rule of a single party government still taking credits from the IMF. The government transformed the political system through a series of democratization programs. However, none of these attempts included enlarging horizontal accountability or empowering autonomous institutions. On the contrary, as a typical neo-liberal political party the AKP treated all autonomous institutions as impediments to its will, which is supposedly the embodiment of the national will delegated to them through elections. Although the last referendum of 2010 included some measures to reduce power of the military in the judicial system, it was clear that the main objective of the AKP wasn’t increasing autonomy of the judiciary. The executive branch and the parliament controlled by the majority party replaced the military and took the control of the judiciary. Or, so it seemed.
Meanwhile, Turkey turned into a security state in reaction to increased terrorist activities of the PKK. The government didn’t change “the war against terrorism” doctrine, developed by the generals after 1994 when the PKK gained significant political presence in Southeastern Turkey. Global contagion of paranoia against terrorists after 9/11 also helped the government to apply a kind of martial law in the country. The police force was in the charge of the fight against terrorists through legitimate and illegitimate methods. The anti-terror police teams were highly militarized. Super-institutions were set up: Super-prosecutors could conduct investigations autonomously and super-courts supported all decisions of super-prosecutors. Although subsequent changes in the codes of Criminal Law and Criminal Procedures Laws were demanded by the European Union, there were always exceptions in the legal system to be used against terrorists. This huge mechanism worked harmoniously within the government for 10 years, especially dealing with the coup attempts against the government labeled as Balyoz and Ergenekon. Many political analysts believe the AK Party established a quasi-authoritarian rule by using this hammer. If you have a hammer everything looks like a nail.
The perfect storm of present day: The government, supposedly representing the national will and completely empowered by the new rule of the Generals, acts without any accountability and not surprisingly the natural law “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” occurs. The state led economic growth and redistribution of wealth creates enormous amounts of money to be distributed through client list networks. Meanwhile, the hammer described above records almost every transaction and communique, including phone calls of the Prime Minister. Suddenly, the hammer decides to act by using its super-police, super-prosecutors and super-judges against the government. Now, the government tries to take this hammer under its control by using its tutelage of the judiciary. Vicious cycle 101. But, if you are a Turkish citizen it’s not funny nor ironic. This isn’t even politics we recognize anymore.
Originally published at intlrelationsgroup.wordpress.com on January 22, 2014.