One hundred years of ups and downs of democracy in Turkey
This year, the Republic of Turkey is going to celebrate its 100th anniversary with the holding of such national elections, which can be a turning point in the political history of modern Turkey.
One hundred years ago, the Republic of Turkey was established. Since then, the Turkish system has changed from a one-party system to a multi-party system. A few events have left a deep impact on the political landscape of this country. A military coup in the 1960s, nearly ten years of violent protests in the 70s, followed by another military coup and several unstable coalition governments in the 90s, and then the rise of an Islamist ruler in 2020. During all these small and big setbacks, Turkey not only remained on the western-style democratic ideas, equality, rule of law and secularism, but this state also spent a hundred years following the same modern ideas. Turkey’s democratic institutions in the last century. How flexible and stable have I been?
During the reign of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey clearly turned its direction from the West to the East, and during this time Turkey began to be more connected with Islamic values. Ankara has made new friends and allies in the Arab world. Turkey continues to increase military involvement abroad, including in Somalia and Qatar. Turkish troops were welcomed in these areas.
All Turks are not happy with these situations and events because it all happened under the shadow of dictatorship. The Berlin-based Center for Applied Turkish Studies (CATS) has a negative view of Turkey’s new political landscape. “Turkey is currently an authoritarian regime,” says Senam Adar, an expert associated with the center. Since the late 2000s, the country has steadily moved away from issues such as the rule of law and the separation of powers.
“This can only be called disappointing given the country’s nearly seven decades of experience with competitive multi-party elections and its integration into Western institutional structures,” Senam Adar adds.
Islam as a political force
One of the core values of the Turkish Republic was secularism, a concept based on the French model of the strict separation of state and religion. Less than a year after the establishment of this republic, in 1924, the Ottoman Caliphate ended. A Directorate of Religious Affairs called ‘Dayant’ was then established, with the aim of giving the state more control over the political influence of Islam.
However, thanks to the policies and practices of current President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, religion plays a much more political role in Turkey today than it did 20 years ago. Turkish scholar Sinam Adar also points out that the line between religion and politics in Turkey has always been very thin. She says, “The last 20 years of rule of Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) have greatly expanded and deepened the influence of religion in social life.” A clear trend of gradual expansion can be observed, especially during the last decade
Erdogan’s defeat possible?
Turkish voters will elect a new president on June 18. According to some polls based on public opinion, if the opposition contests this election with a single candidate, Erdoğan is likely to lose because of the large number of people who question his policies.
In this regard, the so-called ‘Table of Six’, a joint political force comprising six opposition parties, has not yet announced the names of one or more of its candidates.
In Turkey, the public at present largely believes that their country still has democratic institutions. However, for those who want to see a new government in the future, there was a glimmer of hope in 2019. In local elections then, opposition candidates won against AKP candidates in Turkey’s two largest cities, Istanbul and Ankara. This proved that democratic institutions were still functioning in Turkey and that unlike other authoritarian regimes like Russia, the ruling political power could be defeated in the upcoming elections.