Erdoğan’s ‘Democratization Package’

Erdoğan’s ‘Democratization Package’

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was announcing his government’s much touted “democratization package” on Monday as this piece was being written. It would be wrong to analyze his disclosures in detail before one gets a holistic understanding of what this package entails. That will take a few days. One can nevertheless make some general remarks.

It was telling, for example, that Erdoğan should have admitted this package is only one more step rather than being the definitive answer to all of Turkey’s democratic deficiencies. Erdoğan also made much of the steps his government had taken to prevent the interruption of the democratic process by military or other means.

The message one gets from these two aspects of what he said is firstly that the government is not ready to go the full length as far as democratization is concerned, and secondly that its principle concern is to prevent any possibility of being toppled by irregular means.

In other words, Erdoğan’s package appears to continue the paternalistic and piecemeal approach to “controlled democratization,” aimed in the first instance to protecting the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) interests. This package is also meant to address the problems of Turkey’s Kurdish and Alevi minorities as priority issues.

Whether it is has done so or merely represents a palliative attempt to buy the government time as it prepares for a series of elections should become apparent as reactions from Kurds and Alevis come in. As usual, it is Erdoğan’s own rhetoric that sets the standard which will determine how sincere his government is about all this. 

Addressing a crowd of supporters in Denizli on Saturday, Erdoğan said, “You will see when the [democratization] package is announced, and our reforms are implemented one after the other, that Turkey gains strength and speed and the economy and the democracy move up a class and enter a new phase.”

Who would not applaud Erdoğan and his government for achieving all of this? But there are reasons for retaining some skepticism, especially in terms of what has been going on in Turkey since the Gezi Park protests. For one thing Turkey remains “The world’s largest prison for journalists,” to use the characterization of the “Reporters Without Borders” media watchdog group. 

In addition to this, Turkey is more than ever considered a country where police brutality is rife and practiced with impunity under government protection. Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan has admitted that the Gezi Park protests have harmed the country’s international reputation which will take time to repair. 
Of course, Babacan blames radical groups over this and has avoided the fact that it was the police brutality against demonstrators that the world focused on. It is hard to see how Turkey would “move up a class,” to use Erdoğan’s words, unless these issues are taken seriously, and without blaming others for what the government is responsible for. 

This is why the proof of whether this government is moving the country toward advanced democracy will not only be in the implementation of what is announced, but also in addressing the issues that continue to tarnish Turkey’s democratic reputation. No democratization package is worth its name if its implementation turns out to be selective. 

Erdoğan must also realize that his government is not doing anyone a favor by paternalistically granting privileges which are birth rights under any genuine democracy. Furthermore, he must understand that pluralistic democracy is not a system where one party imposes the will of the majority on others, but a system where the rights of the minority are protected.

We will probably not have to wait long to see if Erdoğan’s latest democratization package has the potential to do what he claims it will do for Turkey, or if it is just more words on paper while business goes on as usual.