Tur­key has been a democ­racy.

The Washington Post Sunday - - OUTLOOK -

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.

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