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The Failure of Democracy in Turkey: A Comparative Analysis

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 January 2013

Abstract

Although Turkey took its initial steps toward establishing democracy in 1950, it has thus far failed to become a fully functioning democracy. Using the comparison cases of Spain and Greece, this article discusses two related variables that are likely to have thwarted the development of full democracy in Turkey: the country's experience with authoritarian rule, and the lack of elite settlement or convergence towards acceptance of the democratic rules of the game. The article ultimately contends that despite the EU's attempt to push Turkey towards full democracy in the modern day it is unlikely that it will become a fully functioning democracy unless it manages to achieve civilian elite agreement regarding the rules of the Turkish democratic game, and that Turkey's experience with authoritarian rule may, in turn, have hindered the development of such rules.

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References

1 Dahl, Robert, On Democracy, New Haven, CT, Yale University Press, 2000 Google Scholar; Schmitter, Philippe C. and Karl, Terry Lynn, ‘What Democracy Is…and Is Not’, in Diamond, Larry and Plattner, Marc F. (eds), The Global Resurgence of Democracy, Baltimore, MD, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996, pp. 4962 Google Scholar.

2 Party closures appeared to be becoming less frequent in recent years; however, the Constitutional Court's relatively recent (11 December 2009) decision to close the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party incited new debates on the democratic standards in Turkey (see http://www.eubusiness.com/news-eu/turkey-kurds-unrest.1y0 and http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8413940.stm).

3 See, for instance, Council Decision of 18 February 2008 (2008/157/EC) on the principles, priorities and conditions contained in the Accession Partnership with the Republic of Turkey and repealing Decision 2006/35/EC. Available from http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2008:051:0004:01:EN:HTML, accessed 26 February 2010.

4 In the years since the adoption of Article 301, 261 suits were filed against 357 people in 2005. The corresponding figures afterwards were as follows: 386 cases against 526 people in 2006 and 349 cases against 276 people in 2007. After the amendments to the Article in 2008, opening cases under Article 301 became possible for prosecutors only after getting permission from the minister of justice. According to the European Commission's 2009 Progress Report on Turkey, the minister of justice permitted prosecutors to investigate 77 cases out of a total number of 914 applications (8 per cent). He then allowed investigation of 8 applications out of 210 (3 per cent). Also noted in that same EU report is the statement: ‘the Turkish legal framework still fails to provide sufficient guarantees for exercising freedom of expression and, as a result, is often interpreted in a restrictive way by public prosecutors and judges’ (available at http://ec.europa.eu/enlargement/pdf/key_documents/2009/tr_rapport_2009_en.pdf, accessed 1 December 2010, p. 18 of the report). We would like to thank Güçlü Akyürek from the Law Faculty of Galatasaray University, Istanbul, for bringing this to our attention.

6 See Leonardo Morlino, Democracy Between Consolidation and Crisis: Parties, Groups and Citizens in Southern Europe, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1998.

7 The election of socialist governments was significant in both countries because of the extreme hostility on the part of previous authoritarian governments to socialists and other leftist movements. The election of left-wing governments in both cases without violent opposition from the right thus indicated an acceptance that these groups had a right to compete freely in elections and to form a government if they won a majority of seats in parliament.

8 See Przeworski, A. and Teune, H., The Logic of Comparative Social Inquiry, New York, Wiley-Interscience, 1970 Google Scholar.

9 See, for instance, Przeworski, Adam, Alvarez, Michael, Cheibub, Jose Antonio, and Limongi, Fernando, ‘What Makes Democracies Endure?’, Journal of Democracy, 7: 1 (1996), pp. 3955 Google Scholar; and Boix, C. and Stokes, S. C., ‘Endogenous Democratization’, World Politics, 55: 4 (2003), pp. 517–49CrossRefGoogle Scholar; North, Douglass C. and Weingast, Barry, ‘Constitutions and Commitment: The Evolution of Institutions Governing the Public Choice in Seventeenth-Century England’, Journal of Economic History, 49 (1989), pp. 803–32CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

10 G. Sapelli, Southern Europe Since 1945: Tradition and Modernity in Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece and Turkey, London, Longman, 1995, p. 6.

11 Ibid., p. 13; Salvador Giner, ‘Political Economy, Legitimation, and the State in Southern Europe’, in Guillermo O'Donnell, Philippe C. Schmitter and Laurence Whitehead (eds), Transitions from Authoritarian Rule: Southern Europe, Baltimore, Johns Hopkins Press, 1986, pp. 11–44.

12 See Richard Gunther, ‘Spain: The Very Model of the Modern Elite Settlement’, in John Higley and Richard Gunther (eds), Elites and Democratic Consolidation in Latin America and Southern Europe, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1992, pp. 38–80; and Neovi M. Karakatsanis, The Politics of Elite Transformation: The Consolidation of Greek Democracy in Theoretical Perspective, Westport, CT, Greenwood Press, 2001.

13 Diamandouros, P. Nikiforos, Puhle, Hans-Jürgen and Gunther, Richard, ‘Conclusion’, in Diamandouros, P. Nikiforos, Puhle, Hans-Jürgen and Gunther, Richard (eds), The Politics of Democratic Consolidation: Southern Europe in Comparative Perspective, Baltimore, Johns Hopkins Press, 1995, p. 395 Google Scholar.

14 Özbudun, Ergun, ‘Constitution Making and Democratic Consolidation in Turkey’, in Heper, M., Kazancigil, A., and Rockman, B. A. (eds), Institutions and Democratic Statecraft, Boulder, CO, Westview Press, 1998 Google Scholar; and Zürcher, Erik Jan, Turkey, A Modern History, London, I.B. Tauris, 1998 Google Scholar.

15 See the discussion in L. Whitehead, ‘International Aspects of Democratization’, in O'Donnell, Schmitter and Whitehead, Transitions from Authoritarian Rule; and P.C. Schmitter, ‘The Influence of the International Context Upon the Choice of National Institutions and Policies in Neo-Democracies’, in L. Whitehead (ed.), The International Dimensions of Democratization: Europe and the Americas, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2001, for instance.

16 Shortly before Spain's application for associate membership was lodged, the Birkelbach Report was approved by the European Parliament in January 1962. The report stated that countries wishing to join the EEC were required to recognize the principles for membership outlined by the Council of Europe: democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law. Associate status of the EEC was specified as a future possibility for countries that fulfilled these political conditions for membership but were not economically ready for full membership; Carlos Closa and Paul Heywood, Spain and the European Union, London, Palgrave Macmillan, 2004, p. 10; J. C. MacLennan, Spain and the Process of European Integration, 1957–85, Houndmills, Palgrave, 2000, p. 53.

17 See Müftüler-Baç, Meltem, Turkey's Relations with a Changing Europe, Manchester, Manchester University Press, 1997 Google Scholar.

18 MacLennan, Spain and the Process of European Integration, pp. 166–74.

19 Karakatsanis, The Politics of Elite Transformation.

20 Ibid., chapters 5 and 6.

22 See Frank Schimmelfennig and Ulrich Sedelmeier (eds), The Europeanization of Central and Eastern Europe, Ithaca, NY, and London, Cornell University Press, 2005, for an analysis of the EU's limited influence in some candidate countries.

23 For the most recent official report about this, see, for instance, http://ec.europa.eu/enlargement/pdf/key_documents/2010/package/tr_rapport_2010_en.pdf, pp. 11–12, accessed 1 December 2010.

24 In particular, the number of military officials sitting on the National Security Council was reduced in 2001 and use of State Security Courts was abolished in 2004, among many other reforms.

26 Ibid.

27 Ibid., p. 12.

28 Hale, William, Turkish Politics and the Military, London, Routledge, 1994 Google Scholar; McLaren, Lauren M., Constructing Democracy in Southern Europe: A Comparative Analysis of Italy, Spain and Turkey, London: Routledge, 2008, chapter 9Google Scholar.

29 Preston, Paul, The Politics of Revenge: Fascism and the Military in Twentieth-Century Spain, London, Routledge, 1990, p. 131 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

30 Karakatsanis, The Politics of Elite Transformation, chapter 2.

31 Karakatsanis, The Politics of Elite Transformation; Richard Clogg, A Short History of Modern Greece, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1979; C. M. Woodhouse, Modern Greece: A Short History, London, Faber and Faber, 1977; Paul Heywood, The Government and Politics of Spain, Houndsmills, Macmillan, 1995; Paul Preston, The Coming of the Spanish Civil War: Reform, Reaction and Revolution in the Second Republic, 2nd edn, London, Routledge, 1978; and Paul Preston, The Triumph of Democracy in Spain, London, Routledge, 1986.

32 As noted above, some may question the quality of democracy in these countries (see Morlino, Democracy Between Consolidation and Crisis), but given that it is questionable as to whether Turkey can be counted among the southern European democracies in the first place, a comparison of the quality of democracy seems inappropriate in the present analysis.

33 On 8 November 1978 Prime Minister Ecevit announced that 800 people were killed as a result of political violence, and that 1,052 rightist and 778 leftist militants were arrested during his term. The approximate death toll during Demirel's minority government (12 November 1979–12 September 1980) is thought to be around 1,500 (see Feroz Ahmad, The Making of Modern Turkey, London, Routledge, 1993, pp. 172 and 179).

34 We acknowledge that the Spanish Civil War was on a much larger scale than the left-wing and fascist/right-wing violence in Greece and Turkey, but merely wish to highlight the similarities in the nature of disputes and the existence of large-scale political violence across all three regimes. The impact of differences in civil war conditions across the three countries may deserve further exploration in future research, though.

35 Quoted in Gilmour, D., The Transformation of Spain: From Franco to the Constitutional Monarchy, London, Quartet, 1985, p. 28 Google Scholar; Maravall, José María, Dictatorship and Political Dissent: Workers and Students in Franco's Spain, London, Tavistock, 1978 Google Scholar; Preston, Paul (ed.) Spain in Crisis: The Evolution and Decline of the Franco Régime, Hassocks, Harvester, 1976 Google Scholar; and Preston, Paul, The Politics of Revenge : Fascism and the Military in Twentieth-Century Spain, London, Routledge, 1995 Google Scholar.

36 Gilmour, The Transformation of Spain, p. 29; Maravall, Dictatorship and Political Dissent; Preston, Spain in Crisis; and Preston, The Politics of Revenge.

37 Maravall, Dictatorship and Political Dissent; Preston, Spain in Crisis; and Preston, The Politics of Revenge.

38 See Gunther, ‘Spain: The Very Model’.

39 Karakatsanis, The Politics of Elite Transformation, pp. 30–1.

40 Clogg, A Short History of Modern Greece, p. 197.

41 Ibid., p. 191.

42 Prominent figures such as PASOK leader Andreas Papandreou were treated leniently, however, and generally sent into exile (Clogg, A Short History of Modern Greece, p. 197).

43 The Ottoman constitution of 1876 did actually foresee a parliamentary monarchy. However, the only period in the twentieth century that this constitution could be said to be in effect was between 1908 and 1913. The 1908 elections were considerably freer, and the following year the constitution would be amended so as to limit some of the sultan's powers (including his right to dissolve the parliament). Many parties emerged during this period, but the political arena would soon be dominated by violence between rival parties. A number of political homicides took place and these parties relied on different factions within the military. The 1912 elections were rigged by the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), which would eventually establish its single-party rule by a coup d'état in January 1913. The regime would further transform into a CUP dictatorship as a response to the assassination of Prime Minister Mahmud Sevket Pasha in June 1913, who was appointed to this post by the CUP after the January coup. In the Republican era, two brief multiparty periods were experienced: in 1924–25 and 1930. The first one was marked by the formation of an opposition party against the RPP, founder of the Republic, by a group of dissident political elites of both civilian and military origins. Mustafa Kemal Pasha, however, did not tolerate this move and the opposition party was disbanded in 1925. In 1930, though, it was Mustafa Kemal who encouraged the formation of an opposition party. Having attracted a large amount of support from discontented masses, this new party would soon be regarded as a threat to the new regime and be forced to dissolve itself.

44 Feroz Ahmad, ‘Politics and Political Parties in Republican Turkey’, in Reşat Kasaba (ed.), The Cambridge History of Turkey. Volume 4: Turkey in the Modern World, New York, Cambridge University Press, 2008, p. 254. The restoration of political life started with the 6 November 1983 election in which the military regime allowed only three parties to participate.

45 See ‘12 Eylül'ün bilançosu’ (‘The Net Result of 12 September’) at the NTV-MSNBC news portal, http://arsiv.ntvmsnbc.com/news/419690.asp, accessed 27 October 2009.

46 The widespread popular support that the 1980 coup enjoyed and the perceptive attitude of many prominent political elites towards the military is highlighted by the work of Mehmet Ali Birand (see Mehmet Ali Birand, 12 Eylül Saat: 04.00, Istanbul, Karacan, 1984, pp. 245, 294 and 300–6).

47 See Lipset, S. M., ‘Some Social Requisites of Democracy: Economic Development and Political Legitimacy’, American Political Science Review, 53: 2 (1959), pp. 69105 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Barrington Moore, Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Lord and Peasant in the Making of the Modern World, Harmondsworth, Allen Lane, 1967.

48 Samuel Huntington, The Third Wave, Norman, OK, University of Oklahoma Press, 1991; D. Rueschemeyer, E. H. Stephens and J. D. Stephens, Capitalist Development and Democracy, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1992.

49 For instance, see the 1986 four-volume Transitions from Authoritarian Rule series edited by Guillermo O'Donnell, Philippe C. Schmitter and Laurence Whitehead, Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986; Juan Linz and Alfred Stepan, Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation, Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996; and Richard Gunther, Nikiforos Diamandouros, and Hans-Jürgen Puhle (eds), The Politics of Democratic Consolidation: Southern Europe in Comparative Perspective, Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995, to name a few.

50 E.g. G. Lowell Field and John Higley, Elites and Non-Elites: The Possibilities and their Side Effects, Andover, MA, Warner Modular Publications, 1973; Burton, Michael G. and Higley, John, ‘Elite Settlements’, American Sociological Review, 52: 3 (1989), pp. 295307 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Higley, John and Burton, Michael G., ‘The Elite Variable in Democratic Transitions and Breakdowns’, American Sociological Review, 54: 1 (1989), pp. 1732 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Higley, John and Moore, Gwen, ‘Elite Integration in the United States and Australia’, American Political Science Review, 75 (1981), pp. 581–97CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Higley, John and Burton, Michael, ‘Elite Settlements and the Taming of Politics’, Government and Opposition, 33 (1998), pp. 98115 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

51 Burton, Michael G. and Higley, John, ‘Elite Settlements’, American Sociological Review, 52: 3 (1987), p. 296 CrossRefGoogle Scholar, quoting Field and Higley, Elites and Non-Elites, p. 8.

52 Burton and Higley, ‘Elite Settlements’, p. 296; see also Higley and Moore, ‘Elite Integration in the United States and Australia’, in general.

53 Burton and Higley, ‘Elite Settlements’, pp. 296–7; but see Cammack, Paul, ‘A Critical Assessment of the New Elite Paradigm’, American Sociological Review, 55: 3 (1990), pp. 415–20CrossRefGoogle Scholar, for a critique of these arguments.

54 Burton and Higley, ‘Elite Settlements’, p. 298.

55 Higley and Burton, ‘The Elite Variable in Democratic Transitions’, p. 22.

56 We acknowledge the explanatory limitations of the elite settlement approach but contend here that it provides extremely useful analytical (if somewhat descriptive) tools for understanding the failure of Turkey to become a fully functioning democracy.

57 See, for instance Gunther, ‘Spain: The Very Model’.

58 Gunther, ‘Spain: The Very Model’, pp. 47–8; Preston, The Triumph of Democracy.

59 This included the Socialists, Social Democrats, Communists, Liberals, Christian Democrats, the three largest trade unions, and moderate Basque, Gallego and Catalán groups (Gunther, ‘Spain: The Very Model’, pp. 49–50; Preston The Triumph of Democracy).

60 Gunther, ‘Spain: The Very Model’, p. 51; Preston, The Triumph of Democracy.

61 Gunther, ‘Spain: The Very Model’, pp. 59–60; Preston The Triumph of Democracy, p. 60.

62 Gunther, ‘Spain: The Very Model’, p. 54.

63 Karakatsanis, The Politics of Elite Transformation, pp. 47–51.

64 It is contended, however, that although these talks failed to produce a unified solution to rule of the colonels, the face-to-face contacts between previously warring elites served to create a sense of unity and mutual civility between them, and these helped to build mutual trust and respect between civilian politicians (Karakatsanis, The Politics of Elite Transformation, pp. 7–8).

65 Karakatsanis, The Politics of Elite Transformation, p. 57; Clogg, A Short History of Modern Greece.

66 Juan Linz and A. Stepan, Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation: Southern Europe, South America, and Post-Communist Europe, Baltimore, MD, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996, p. 113; Woodhouse, Modern Greece, p. 306.

67 Karakatsanis, The Politics of Elite Transformation, pp. 9–10 and 58–9; Clogg, A Short History of Modern Greece.

68 Karakatsanis, The Politics of Elite Transformation, pp. 9–10 and 60. Importantly, though, one of the primary constitutional issues that had caused serious dispute and protests – the Greek monarchy – was left to the people to decide. A referendum was held in December 1974 in which 69 per cent of Greek voters voted against the restoration of the monarchy (Clogg, A Short History of Modern Greece, p. 207).

69 Karakatsanis, The Politics of Elite Transformation pp. 72–3.

70 Ibid., pp. 75–6.

71 Ibid., pp. 9–10.

72 Karakatsanis, The Politics of Elite Transformation, pp. 131–2.

73 See Bülent Tanör and Necmi Yüzbaşıoğlu, 1982 Anayasasına Göre Türk Anayasa Hukuku, Istanbul, Yapı Kredi Yayınları, 2001, pp. 36–8.

74 McLaren, Constructing Democracy in Southern Europe, chapters 5 and 11.

75 Bülent Tanör, Osmanlı-Türk Anayasal Gelişmeleri, Istanbul, Yapı Kredi Yayınları, 2001, pp. 369–70.

76 Tanör and Yüzbaşıoğlu, 1982 Anayasasına Göre Türk Anayasa Hukuku, p. 37; Tanör, Osmanlı-Türk Anayasal Gelişmeleri, p. 370.

77 Tanör and Yüzbaşıoğlu, 1982 Anayasasına Göre Türk Anayasa Hukuku, pp. 29 and 34–7; Özbudun, Ergun, ‘Constitution Making and Democratic Consolidation in Turkey’, in Heper, M., Kazancigil, A. and Rockman, B. A. (eds), Institutions and Democratic Statecraft, Boulder, CO, Westview Press, 1998 Google Scholar.

78 Tanör and Yüzbaşıoğlu, 1982 Anayasasına Göre Türk Anayasa Hukuku, pp. 37–8.

79 Elite settlement may, of course, not guarantee democracy and instead could produce an authoritarian settlement. Given the configuration of interests in Turkey, this sort of settlement seems extremely unlikely. Thus it appears that any movement towards elite unity in acceptance of the basic rules of the regime will revolve around democratic rather than authoritarian rules.

80 Grigoriadis, I., ‘Islam and Democratization in Turkey: Secularism and Trust in a Divided Society’, Democratization, 16: 6 (2009), pp. 1194–213CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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