Turkey, from a democracy to an AKP state

At a time when loyalty pays back, public figures – no matter where they stood in the past – are now in an ‘applause contest’

Mahir Zeynalov

Published: Updated:

We are all aware that Turkey is not even close to a consolidated democracy but its rising profile in the past decade was touted as the best model for Arab nations who attempted to get rid of their leaders. Today, the government is rapidly abandoning every type of democratic reform it had made during its tenure in a bid to save its “regime.”

The term “regime” has a negative connotation when it’s used for a rule of one man or a party. In general, however, “regime” is referred to a system or a set of rules that could also be used for democracies. In Turkey, ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is creating its own regime while installing party loyalists within state bureaucracies.

Corruption arrests and raids in mid-December led to the resignation of three ministers and several ruling party lawmakers, badly damaging the country’s already vulnerable economy. The government responded to the corruption allegations by sacking thousands of police officials, bureaucrats ranging from a state banking regulatory body to a state TV, effectively purging everyone who doesn’t hold a “party badge.”

Party loyalty pays back

At a time when loyalty pays back, public figures – no matter where they stood in the past – are now in an “applause contest.” The ruling party AKP is not only a political structure that runs the government, but it is also rapidly transforming state institutions, restructuring them in a way that only serve the interests of the Erdoğan’s party.

At a time when loyalty pays back, public figures – no matter where they stood in the past – are now in an “applause contest”

Mahir Zeynalov

A number of anti-democratic measures the government has taken in the past month is unprecedented and the corruption scandal has only made it an urgent task for the government to realize its ambition to become a party state. The government apologists justify their desire to seek more power by showing themselves as the “guardian of oppressed Muslims” around the world. Anyone that questions the rationale behind the AKP’s anti-democratic moves would easily be labeled as a “traitor” by pro-government figures and a ruthless smear campaign would be launched in the mainstream media.

In the run-up to the 2011 parliamentary elections, Erdoğan purged most liberal lawmakers and continued to “clean” bureaucracy from those who don’t give a round of standing ovation to the prime minister. Thanks to the three-term rule, a policy Erdoğan repeatedly said he won’t amend, dozens of veteran politicians will leave the party in two years. This perfectly fits to ambitions of young cadres to transform the political party into a kind of structure that uses state resources to impose its own ideology over the society. The most tragic part of the story is that they’re using an Islamic rhetoric to achieve that end.

Long live the state!

Faced with the threat of the Soviet Union abroad and Kurdish militants at home, Turkey’s military regime had used for decades a type of rhetoric that put interests of the state ahead of everything. Starting from the 2000s, people repeatedly voted for Erdoğan’s ruling party because individual freedom and democracy came before “imaginary threats against the state.” That party now considers its critics also as opponents of the Turkish state and its national interests. For instance, Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ recently said “Allah and state reject setting up partners [shirk].” Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said earlier this week that "one’s son could even be sacrificed for the sake of the state." One wonders how ministers of a party, who promised the nation to bring more democracy, could ever use such phrases that run in contrary to any democratic principle.

The most troublesome development is the government’s attempt to subdue the judiciary. The AKP government pushed hard to restructure Turkey’s top judicial body (HSYK), despite huge outrage from the public and the European Union. The government even proposed to appoint members of the judicial body, responsible for appointing judges and prosecutors, based on number of seats in the Parliament. The opposition rejected the idea on grounds that the judges and prosecutors should be independent and not represent political parties.


Several days ago, Turkish authorities removed nearly 20 senior prosecutors and appointed them to less influential posts. Three of them include graft prosecutors, who directly challenged the government by ordering the arrests of sons of ministers, businessmen and chief of the state bank.

Another worrying development is a new draconian Internet law that makes it possible for bureaucrats appointed by the government to shut down any website they want. On Saturday, authorities deployed hundreds of riot police, used tear gas and fired water cannon in Istanbul's Taksim Square to disperse those who wanted to protest the law. This is the new Turkish democracy!

This is the first time since the single-party rule of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) in 1940s that a party tries to dominate in every institution of the state and every field of the society, from business to media.

Mahir Zeynalov is an Istanbul-based journalist with English-language daily Today's Zaman. He is also the managing editor of the Caucasus International magazine. You can follow him on Twitter @MahirZeynalov

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
Top Content Trending