The worst-case scenario for Turkey
Many have argued the theoretical issue of whether a democracy can tolerate the discourses of anti-democracy. It is worth arguing the issue, especially under the current global political circumstances which are leading toward the rise of authoritarianism from those who come to power through democratic elections. It is well-argued that democracy does not mean free elections and majoritarian choice; however, elections and the choice of the majority matter, and it is also undemocratic not to acknowledge them. That is why historically and currently, democracies have not been able to halt authoritarian slides by elected parties and politicians.
No, I am not referring to Donald Trump, as it’s impossible to avoid focusing on Turkey. Turkey not only provides an example of the rise of authoritarianism by the majority party but is also an example of a country preparing to change the political regime to increase authoritarian rule with a popular vote.
Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım has already started the political process that will end the parliamentarian system and result in a shift to a “Turkish-style presidential system,” in accordance with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s instructions. It seems that the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) will support the transition, since the leader of the party has firmly allied himself with Erdoğan since the July 15 coup attempt. Turkey is already under emergency rule, which gives the governing party, or in fact, its true leader, Erdoğan, extensive powers by decree while there is no political force limiting his power. It means that the party which came to power by democratic means and obtained a majority vote in three consecutive elections will use democratic means to shift the political system (which has never been fully democratic) to a non-democratic one. It could be argued that Turkey is not currently a democracy and therefore we cannot talk of a “democratic” transition, but frankly speaking, the ruling party won its first victory in the non-democratic atmosphere of the status quo ante, and then won two more elections which were free and fair.
It is easy to blame the main opposition for its weaknesses, but there is nothing that it can do to hinder the process, since it is a paradox of democracies that one cannot deny the legitimacy of majority rule and democratic but that legal dissent becomes helpless once majority rule slides toward authoritarian politics. At the end of the day, politics is a game of power and once dissent loses its democratic rights and freedoms under repressive rule and has no other source of power, politics enters a vicious cycle. Unfortunately, the Kurdish opposition has its own shortcomings which play into the hands of authoritarian measures, since military confrontation further legitimizes security politics in the name of the fight against terrorism.
Under the circumstances, a transition to a more authoritarian system in the name of a Turkish-style presidential system that openly aims at one-man rule seems inevitable but “unsustainable” at the same time.
That is why the worse-case scenario may not even be the establishment of an authoritarian system and law but perhaps its failure. We are inclined not to think so, since we assume that the failure of authoritarian rule leads to the success of democracy. In fact, it all depends on circumstances – in a country where all institutions are in ruin, democratic politics are weak and social tensions are high, neither authoritarian nor democratic scenarios may work. There is enough reason to be skeptical of the prospects of “authoritarian stability” in Turkey, even though those who seek more authoritarian politics often fail to find them. It is not a zero-sum game that authoritarian politics fail if democratic ones win, or that authoritarian politics achieve their ends if democratic politics are eliminated.
It’s something to keep in mind that the worst-case scenario for societies like ours is chaos, permanent conflict and tension.