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Monday, 30 January 2017

Exit from democracy: Illiberal governance in Turkey

Kerem Oktem and Karabekir Akkoyunlu of the University of Graz presented on this theme on 25 January: David Madden chaired.

Kerem described the overlapping democratic backsliding in Turkey and its various neighbourhoods after the June 2015 elections when AKP lost its absolute majority. There followed the rise of populism and authoritarianism, the November 2015 elections, the de facto executive Presidency, the attempted coup of 15 July 2016, the state of emergency and suspension of the rule of law. This was against the background of the progressive retreat of liberalism in the US and the EU; and the return of Russia as a power centre of illiberal governance. As a second key theme he outlined the peril of secular middle class nostalgia for Kemalism. Kurds, non-Muslims and Alevis had always experienced a different Turkey, even during the space for freedom in the early 2000s; and the Kemalist project collapsed because of the contradiction between enlightenment and racism. Thirdly, the arrangements which assured AKP power and popular support, through a government- dependent civil society, might now be dissolving.
Kara placed the decline into authoritarianism in the context of existential insecurity, and the belief that survival required domination/annihilation of the other. An all or nothing mentality contributed a zero sum quality to politics, rendering the peaceful change of governments increasingly difficult. A historic feature of Turkey’s politics, rendering its democracy weak and justifying its authoritarian structures, insecurity could nonetheless be managed in the relatively predictable geo-political environment of the Cold War. But since the late 2000s insecurity had increased on the basis of overlapping domestic and regional systemic crises. At home, regime crisis: first pitting Kemalists against the Islamists, and later, more destructively, the intra-Islamist feud between Erdogan and Fethullah Gulen. Externally, democratic back-sliding in the West, and systemic melt-down in the post Arab Spring Middle East. As a result, Erdogan is no longer in a position to share power or step back, most clearly manifested in the repeat elections of 2015.

The following points were made in the Q&A session:
  • The success of the AKP in bringing pious Muslims into capitalism was probably now coming to an end
  • It was important to avoid looking at a single person or agent as the sole mover: processes were complex
  • The Gezi Park protests were important in heightening the perception of threat to the authorities. So were the parallels with Egypt and Morsi
  • No one in the West wanted Turkey to fail. The tendency was therefore to pull punches. In any case the crisis in the EU and uncertainties in NATO transcended what was happening just in Turkey
  • CHP was close to the state and respected it even on opposition. The HDP was a threat as a stronger force of opposition and had suffered accordingly
  • Turkey had looked to the EU to endorse its status as a first tier country. This hope was not totally dead, and this explained why pro-EU opinions persevered in Turkey
  • Probably about 40% still opposed Erdogan; opposition was disunited; but how rapidly was Erdogan using up his domestic credit? The struggle against terrorism remained an important weapon for him to use
  • There was a difference between democratic back sliding and exit from democracy. The coming months and the referendum were all important
David Madden (Senior Member, St Antony's College, Oxford)

1 comment:

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