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NURAY MERT > Crises of majoritarian democracies and Turkey

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One of the major issues of the coming decades is going to be the “crises of majoritarian democracies.” Nowadays, from Egypt to Thailand millions are revolting against majority rulers for their democracy deficits. Unfortunately, in some cases, like the most striking example of Egypt, revolts may end up with political chaos and even with the restoration of new oppressive rules.

It is true that most non-Western democracies in name, have long had an acute problem with the lack of social legitimacy. Nonetheless the rise and success of popular(ist) challenges against “the cultural and political hegemony of the elites” and the rise of new middle classes which managed to challenge the political legitimacy of the so-called “elitist regimes” failed to deliver democratization.

The idea of ballot-box democracy and also of self-proclaimed “cultural legitimacy,” according to which, it was the representatives of the majority culture who had the right to legitimate rule emerged as the new orthodoxy. The situation in “Arab Spring” countries is a case in point and the political drama in Turkey is another.

In Muslim counties, the rise of moderate Islamist movements should be recognized as a social and political fact under democratic principles, since they represent the majority of people in their countries and had to respective political power. Nevertheless, they turned to be examples of grasping power through democratic means and turning their back on democratic principles. Moreover, they argued against the democratic principles of individual and minority rights and freedoms on the ground of representing “the majority will” and of “majority culture” (Islamic rules and lifestyle) that everybody else should respect or obey.

Despite that, the majoritarian excesses in Muslim countries are defended on religious grounds, in fact, they are ordinary expressions of authoritarian politics. After all, all sorts of authoritarian politics present themselves as the true representatives of “a nation,” of “an ideology” or of “a religion.” This is the case with conservatives or Islamist authoritarian politics in Turkey as well. Turkey’s “conservative democrats” have not turned out to be more religious but more authoritarian by monopolizing power and eliminating not only dissent but also checks and balances.

Finally, the rift within the conservatives and the eruption of fighting between the Gülen group and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) is the result of a power struggle at the top. Nonetheless, the recent corruption investigations against the government helped to disclose the extent of the monopolization of political power. The government’s response to purge police chiefs (who are in charge of the corruption case) has been another expression of the will to further eliminate all sorts of “divisions of power” and/or “checks and balances.”

Finally, the government defined the whole affair as a conspiracy not only against the government but also against the country and openly accused the United States for the recent assault. This sort of reaction too, is a textbook example of authoritarian politics; that is, if a political government, party or faction finds itself in trouble it must be the enemies of whole nation to be hold responsible. It is not a thing of the past, but it turned to be also the vogue of new majoritarian autocracies, to put the blame on colonialism, imperialism and Zionism for all problems. Only recently, the infamous president of Sri Lanka dismissed criticisms on human rights in his country as colonial interference.

I have been skeptical about Turkey’s latest experiment in political reform and democratization since the end of 2009, but even I could not imagine that it will end up in total disaster.

December/23/2013

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d.p. j.

12/23/2013 10:25:06 PM

Democracy is by definition majoritarian. Democracy literally means rule by the people, which in turn requires some sort of majoritarian system. Protections for minorities can be good or bad - good if they protect vulnerable minorities, bad if they entrench elites and preserve economic or educational privilege. Democracies can only work if citizens are educated and relatively equal in access to resources. Political democracy without social or economic equality is empty of meaning.

Brian Irlanda

12/23/2013 12:09:21 PM

I think we should stop using the term "Majoritarian Democracy" as the first word destroys the second. They cancel each other out and the words change to "Fascist Dictatorship"

K M

12/23/2013 1:00:44 AM

A month ago, you wrote, "I think we urgently need to evaluate the politics in Turkey from a broader perspective than focusing on the whims of Erdoğan" (25 November). Perhaps you now understand that there is no politics in Turkey but the whims of Erdoğan.
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