09 June 2015

Democracy in Turkey: apparently it works

The Justice and Development party is the largest single political party in Turkey and the party of the current president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The AKP (to use its Turkish acronym) remains the biggest party in the republic's legislature after this week's parliamentary elections, but it and Erdogan are generally understood to have suffered an important defeat. Ergogan's party, normally described as moderate Islamists, had enjoyed an outright majority before this week, but hoped to increase it past the two-thirds threshold necessary to amend Turkey's constitution. The idea apparently was to institute "presidential government," with increased power for the executive, i.e. Erdogan. Depending on what you read, he wanted powers like President Obama's or President Putin's. Perception clearly makes a difference. However, in recent times Erdogan had alienated many Turks with what they perceive as an increasingly imperious, bullying and repressive style of rulership, and has only grown more belligerently defensive in the face of journalistic accusations of corruption. In the west, Erdogan was seen as a budding authoritarian in the Putin mold, and his desire for presidential government was seen as a personal power grab that threatened dictatorship. Apparently quite a few Turks felt the same way, for the AKP lost several dozen seats and its majority in the legislature, and will have to form a coalition with one of the other three major parties -- those that won at least 10% of the popular vote and thus earned seats, often at the AKP's expense. According to the "authoritarian" scenario that prevails in the west, this should not have happened. If Erdogan was the imminent authoritarian so many feared, he should have rigged the voting, as Putin and others are always suspected of doing, to get the result he wanted. So Erdogan is either an incompetent authoritarian or, despite obvious attitude problems and apparent abuses of power, he never was one at all. If the proof of democracy is that voters can defeat the ruler, the Republic of Turkey has passed the test. They haven't toppled Erdogan yet, and given the relative strength of the parties it's unlikely any one contender could beat him in a presidential vote, but they have made him weaker than he was. Grade them a C or B depending on how generous you feel, but it's still a passing grade.

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