Erdogan, Dissent and Democracy

By Blog Writer Aysedilan Ucar

President Erdogan rose to power on a series of anti corruption, pro- EU and pro- democracy policies. The first ten years of the AK party rule saw Erdogan praised as an example of the compatibly of Islamism and Democracy. Unfortunately, this is no longer the case. After three landslide victories Erdogan’s power had been consolidated, leading him to overturn any democratic achievement previously made and slowly tainting the idea that Islam and democracy are compatible. 

The Justice and Development Party (AKP) was established by Erdogan himself in 2001 and a year later Erdogan won a general election.  This marked the beginning of an era in which democracy was gradually undermined; the evidence for this can be seen today as Erdogan continues to shut down any form of dissent found within Turkish society. A popular example of this is the imprisonment of the leaders of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) and 10 parliamentary deputies as part of investigations concerning links to terrorism. However, this was all too convenient as at the time of the arrests HDP co-chair Selhattin Demirtas was gaining popularity. The arrests led to Demirtas facing 102 cases with the possibility of two life sentences and ‘600 years in prison’. Significiantly, he refused to defend himself in court, stating that his imprisonment was part of a political agenda undermining democracy and the legal process. The People’s Democratic Party is a leftist, pro-democracy, pro-minority party advocating for peace and the equal rights of women, Kurds and the LGBTQ community in Turkey. HDP remain the biggest critics of Erdogan’s regime and in the June 2015 election the party gained 13% of the vote- damaging Erdogan’s chance of a majority. 

Unfortunately, evidence soon surfaced that votes may have been rigged by AK party officials. News outlets reported that officials had dumped voting slips into nearby villages or motorways; in fact, locals reported being given incorrect instructions on voting procedures.This saw Erdogan take advantage of the lack of political literacy within the rural areas of Turkey, where HDP votes were highest, whilst disregarding any attempts of investigation into these cases. Instead, Erdogan announced an immediate victory for the Justice and Development party. Nonetheless, these incidents continue to jeopardise Turkey’s relations abroad- especially with the European Union. This has undoubtedly damaged Turkey’s efforts to gain membership. 

Erdogan undermines democratic principles by abusing the freedom of expression, by imprisoning public figures and tormenting journalists with accusations of treason and terror. The President is also known for discussing issues in society that nobody is concerned with in an attempt to divert voters from focussing on the real issues that plague Turkish society. By doing this, Erdogan secures the leadership and blocks criticism of his rule by accusing opposition leaders of ignoring the so-called real issues. This tactic has proved successful as Erdogan manages to secure his so-called majority time and time again. Erdogan also uses Islam to exercise his power by labelling any form of dissent as blasphemous; this gives voters the illusion that Erdogan ’s anti-democratic changes are to protect Islam from corruption, thus suggesting that Islam and democracy are incompatible. This move has seen Erdogan control media output by banning access to certain websites and television shows to inhibit dissent. Although these changes have cost Turkish citizens a democratic society, some have labelled Erdogan the new face of Islam, going as far as naming him the new Caliphate. Others, however, have accused his foreign policy tactics of mimicking that of the Ottoman Empire- highlighting Erdogan’s abandonment of democracy. 

Therefore, many believe that Turkey’s rediscovery of democracy can only be achieved with Erdogan’s fall from power. Given that he has just secured a new term in office, this seems unlikely to happen anytime soon. 

Sources and Further Reading 

Image: World Humanitarian Summit @flickr 

TalkPolitics is proud to be supported by Audible. For 50% off your new membership, click here.