Turkey's election: A step toward electoral authoritarianism.

Author:Cakir, Semih
Position::EUROPE
 
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A year and a half ago in Inroads, liter Turan asked whether Turkey is "moving toward electoral authoritarianism." (1) The answer came in the results of parliamentary and presidential elections held on June 24, 2018, which resulted in Recep Tayyip Erdogan's reelection as head of state, defeating four other candidates. The elections gave Erdogan the powers of a much-strengthened executive presidency, and his Justice and Development Party (AKP, according to its Turkish acronym), combined with the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), a majority in parliament. In this article, I look at these developments and their implications in the context of a deteriorating economy and growing opposition.

The political and constitutional context

Support for the Erdogan government has grown since it came into power in 2002 promising efficient economic management. In the following years, Erdogan's AKP consolidated its vote share and created a partisan base by resorting to increasingly polarizing rhetoric in a society largely divided between secularists and conservatives. Erdogan portrayed secularists as seeking to undermine governments elected by the will of the people (milli irade (2)).

Following the failed coup attempt of July 2016, the government declared a state of emergency to restore security by arresting all those it accused of conspiring against the duly elected government. All opposition parties officially supported the government and condemned the coup attempt, which left more than 200 citizens dead and many more wounded. Nevertheless, by repeatedly labelling the secularists as coup supporters, Erdogan succeeded in polarizing the population and consolidating his power base.

A first key development in this chain of events was the renewal of constitutional change as a priority. The AKP argued that even though the military's influence had been gradually and systematically removed from Turkish politics, the failed coup attempt showed that since democracy could still be undermined by the military, it had to be protected by a more powerful executive presidency. This reframing of the change in the constitution gradually won the support of initially hesitant voters. (3)

The second important development was an informal alliance between the AKP and the ultranationalist MHP, which had previously criticized Erdogan very harshly and even promised to take him to court once he lost power. Without the support of the MHP, the AKP could not have passed the bill proposing that the constitutional change be taken to the people in a referendum for ratification. MHP support for a presidential system led dissidents to try to unseat its leader, Devlet Bahceli. When this failed, the dissidents split from the party and created the Good Party (IP) led by Meral Aksener in October 2017.

The April 24, 2017, referendum narrowly approved a structural constitutional change, which abolished the office of the prime minister and established a presidential system with wide executive powers. The referendum's legitimacy was contested for a number of reasons. First, it was held under the state of emergency in effect since the coup, which constrained the No camp's efforts to mount a comprehensive campaign. Second, all state institutions along with the media outlets campaigned for Yes and demonized No voters as collaborators with foreign powers and opponents of national unity.

The ruling party went further. In polarizing rhetoric, it portrayed No voters as traitors who supported terrorism via either the outlawed Gulenist movement (which the government refers to as FETO, the Gulenist Terror Organization) or the PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party--Kurdish separatist militants behind an armed insurgency against the Turkish state since the 1980s). Last but not least, in addition to some election irregularities, the Supreme Election Board's ruling on the day of the vote allowed ballots without an official stamp to nevertheless be counted. Despite all its advantages, the Yes just squeaked through, with 51.4 per cent of the vote.

Under the continuing state of emergency, the president has the right to bypass parliament and govern the country by decree. The determination of the ruling party to use all means at its disposal to take on every group accused of supporting terror (especially...

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