Worse than corruption
We should not dismiss the reality behind the recent crises in Turkey as a simple matter of corruption, or a big fight hidden (that could not be hidden anymore) behind it. It is worse than that, it is the culmination of the democratic weaknesses of the political system and of the political culture.
No need to say, first of all, that it is the weaknesses of checks and balances and of the division of power in political systems like ours. Then, perhaps more importantly, it is the definition of “political power” in our society (like in many others) that leads to a vicious circle of the democratic deficit. First of all, politics is thought to be all about power and the political arena is considered solely as a space of a power struggle, rather than of arbitration and negotiation. Then, power is cherished as it becomes absolute; as for accountability, it is almost despised by politicians as a “hindrance” and by their supporters as a “weakness.” That is why the PM, his party, and many of his supporters, may think that he has only sidelined the unnecessary bureaucratic hindrances on his way, and that it is not wrong to do that. In the name of the Great Turkey mission, to become the leader of the Muslim world, formalities should not matter, and some corruption should be pardoned as a weakness of human nature.
In fact, although the secular center-left politics is not immune from the authority ridden understanding of politics, it is more true for all shades of right-wing politics in Turkey. No, it is not what Orientalists call the reminiscence of “patrimonialist” past. Well, historical memory and cultural heritage play their part in every political culture, but they do not have their share in politics more in the East than in the West. In fact, our political culture is more shaped by the process of modernization than the distant past. As we know well, that “modernization” was bound to be an authoritarian project in many societies, and it was more so in non-Western ones. Late Ottoman and Republican modernization projects were enforced by particularly authoritarian politics. Those who resented the modernization project expressed themselves in terms of conservative politics, which developed along another path of the authoritarian understanding of politics. First of all, the conservatives also needed power more than anything else in order to alter the guardians of the modernist project.
In short, nobody had the “luxury” and/or the eagerness to invest in building political institutions based on democratic norms. Moreover, conservatives have always been skeptical of Western notions and institutions. It is no surprise that pro-government columnists nowadays start their analyses, once again, at the beginning of the modernization period, which represents “a 200-year-long interruption in glorious Muslim-Turkish history.” For the same reason, they do not only define the recent events as a conspiracy against the government, but also recall the grand conspiracy against “the nation” as the final leader of Muslims, and draws parallels with today’s events.
Unfortunately, this is not only an attempt to divert attention from corruption, but what is worse is that they truly believe in what they say. Obviously, almost everybody knows that the corruption charges are not groundless, but it is thought to be a trivial matter. What counts more is having or losing absolute power, which is necessary for the ultimate glory of the nation and of Muslims everywhere. That is why a pro-government columnist suggested that Turkey should not be hindered in achieving great power, because it defines the destiny of all Muslims, as he interpreted the execution of a religious-political leader in Bangladesh a few weeks ago.
Finally, it is the power addiction in Turkey’s politics that leads to the vicious circles of the democratic deficit, and the recent one seems to be fatal. In the past, secularists needed power to fight religious backwardness and realize the dream of a civilized Turkey in the image of the West, so they could not afford to pay much attention to democracy. The conservatives needed political power to alter secularist “oppressors,” and after all they have never sincerely been convinced by the idea of democracy.
Moreover, they have been motivated by the idea of the resurrection of Muslim/Turkish power. It may sound odd, but even the democrats of Turkey have always cherished the political power of others, since they scandalously believed that only the powerful could realize democratization. It never occurred to them that the dreams of democracy cannot be realized by borrowing power from the powerful, or that democracy cannot be realized by supporting the powerful.