Authoritarian Backlash: A Comparison of Turkey & Venezuela.

Author:Pearson, Robert
Position:Commentary & Analysis - Country overview

October 2017

The Character of Democracy

"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." This famous opening line from Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina is important also for democracies. While Turkey and Venezuela are each unhappy in their own way, they also may share some common elements in their struggles for democracy that provide lessons.

Once we thought all democracies could be happy and alike. The American vision of democracy in the 19th century, culminating in Woodrow Wilson's vision of democracy as enshrined in the Versailles Treaty ending WWI conceived of democracy as a sort of Robert's Rules of Order for societies, a manual to be followed to ensure good government and the rule of law. All a country had to do was to follow the manual. Now we see that democracy takes considerably more care--if the environmental conditions are not favorable, democracy will weaken and can even die.

Democracy in Turkey

Freedom House, the independent watchdog organization for freedom and democracy, states that 2016 marked the 11th consecutive year of decline in global freedom. Turkey is ranked "partially free". Freedom House names Turkey first--meaning the worst--in the world for the greatest one-year decline in democracy from 2016 to 2017. Among the "partially free" countries, Turkey again ranked number one in the greatest decline over 10 years.

The July 15, 2016, failed coup attempt highlighted the country's profound political division. The government has purged thousands of civil servants, academics, police and military personnel with mass firings and criminal prosecutions. One partially free newspaper remains; all others are under government control. President Erdogan has jailed many of his political opponents and media critics on charges of treason. In his public remarks, he often refers to his perceived enemies as terrorists or accuses them of supporting terrorists. Turkey's education minister will now require the teaching of "jihad" in Turkish schools. Mr. Erdogan is finalizing an emergency decree to assume for himself two years in advance all the powers of constitutional change that were due to take place in 2019. He is now head of his party, head of state and head of government and rules without any legal or constitutional restraint.

Democracy is not entirely dead in Turkey yet, however. Mr. Erdogan barely won a referendum held in April 2017 (51.4%), which was marred by election distortions. He should have won by 60%--based on results for his party (Justice & Development Party) and his allied party (Nationalist Movement Party) in the last elections. The result revealed weaknesses in his own party's ranks, deep dissatisfaction within an allied party, and strong opposition in the country's urban centers. This raised the possibility that an effective opposition coalition could emerge.

In June, the country's principal opposition party, the Republican People's Party...

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