Turkey’s government has undertaken a legislative campaign to vastly increase the state’s power and insulate it from accountability
The history of the Republic of Turkey’s relations with the United States is also that of the country’s modernization and democratization. U.S. military and economic assistance to Turkey under the Truman Doctrine and Turkey’s subsequent entry into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) coincided with the emergence of a multiparty political system in 1950. In the more than six decades since, Turkey has overcome several political crises and military coups to emerge as an imperfect but dynamic and evolving democracy. That progress—an important component of the strong U.S.-Turkish relationship—has been slowed in the last two years.
“Which direction Turkey’s domestic political development follows,” our task force wrote last fall, “is an increasing concern not just for Turks but also for the United States. Practically, this means that Washington should be open with Ankara about its concerns about issues like press freedom, freedom of assembly, rule of law, and the Turkish government’s increasing sectarianism.” Unfortunately, since then, all of these values have suffered. In fact, in the last three months, Turkey’s democratic progress has been reversed.
Recently, several laws either submitted to or pushed through Turkey’s parliament by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) undermine central pillars of democracy—separation of powers, checks and balances, government accountability to voters, freedom of speech—and have put Turkey on the road to authoritarianism. If left unchecked, which they very well might following the AKP’s victory in the March 30 local elections, these structural changes could prove more dangerous to Turkish democracy than the abuses of power in which Erdoğan has engaged thus far.
The context for these developments is a corruption scandal that, ever since it came to light on December 17, 2013, has rocked Turkey with allegations that reach the highest echelons of government. The scope of the alleged corruption is huge, reaching the prime minister’s family and closest associates, and possibly the prime minister himself.
At the same time, popular opposition to the government, which has been simmering since last summer’s large, countrywide protests, has once again exploded into view. Following the recent death of a teenager injured by police during the protests nine months ago, tens of thousands of Turks took to the street to make their dissatisfaction with Erdoğan and his brutal tactics known.
Several laws either submitted to or pushed through Turkey’s parliament by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his ruling party undermine central pillars of democracy and have put Turkey on the road to authoritarianism.
Erdoğan’s response has been to marshal the government’s powers in a heavy-handed attempt to quash both the corruption charges and the public opposition. Hundreds of prosecutors and thousands of police officers tied to the graft investigation have been fired or reassigned, media has been blocked from reporting on it, and the allegations have been portrayed as the fabrications of Turkey’s enemies, both at home and abroad. Police dispersed protestors, sometimes violently, and access to social media was blocked.
Not content with these measures, Erdoğan’s government has undertaken a legislative campaign to vastly increase the state’s power and insulate it from accountability. The AKP submitted a slew of bills that would fundamentally transform the functioning of critical state institutions and, thanks to its majority in parliament and control of the presidency, turned several of them into law. The most consequential of these bills deal with the structure and functioning of the judiciary, government control over the Internet, and the mandate and powers of the intelligence service.