Turkey has been a democracy.
It is commonplace to believe that under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey has become authoritarian. In 2015, Turkish author Mustafa Akyol lamented his country’s “authoritarian drift” in a New York Times oped. A few months later, social scientist Jason Brownlee wrote in these pages about “Turkey’s authoritarian descent.”
The truth, however, is that the country has never been a democracy, despite having continuous free and fair multi-party elections since 1946. Between 1960 and 1997, Turkey’s senior military command disposed of four governments it did not like. The General Staff oversaw anti-democratic constitutional changes, including a 1982 constitution geared more toward protecting the Turkish state from the people than guaranteeing political and civil rights. In 1997, the military ousted Turkey’s first Islamist-led government because the prime minister refused to implement rules that undermined freedom of expression, weakened the independence of the press and criminalized thought.
When Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AK Party) came to power in 2002, it reduced the role of the military in politics, promised Turks personal freedoms, and made it harder to close political parties and ban politicians. But Turkish leaders soon began to backslide on reforms, and over the past decade Erdogan has used the bureaucracy to undermine his political opponents and resurrect something akin to the state security courts, which his government previously abolished. any indication, about half the Turkish electorate dislikes Erdogan for his corruption, arrogance and power grabs, while the other half reveres him for the freedoms he has given them.