Despite the expectation among some Turkish academics, journalists, and policy makers that if president Recep Tayyip Erdogan were to lose an election, retire, or die, Turkish politics would automatically change, the institutional manipulations and innovations during his era will endure after he is gone, analyst Steven A. Cook wrote in Foreign Policy on Thursday.
Cook said that a number of Turkish academics, journalists, and policymakers he had met over the years had expressed him their belief that after Erdoğan, Turkey would return to a system that was democratic enough to inspire hope that one day Turkey could join the club of democracies. “Their conviction has more to do with hope and faith than analytic judgment. Erdogan and his party have irrevocably altered Turkey; there is no going back,” Cook said.
According to Cook, as it is the case in Poland and Hungary, in response to Turkey’s opposition, Erdoğan has established new institutions, manipulated existing ones, and hollowed out others to confront political challenges or to close off the possibility of them.
Cook adds that using the governing Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) majority in the parliament in 2014 to whitewash a parliamentary investigation into corruption charges against four government ministers, which rendered the idea of parliamentary oversight essentially meaningless, is one of the best examples of Erdoğan’s attempts to manipulate institutions. “Since the corruption allegation, Erdogan has manipulated institutions to reverse the outcome of an election he did not like in 2015, tried his opponents in courts packed with his supporters, and debased Turkey’s electoral laws to ensure the passage of a referendum on constitutional amendments that would grant the presidency extraordinary powers,” Cook said.
Cook argued that the institutions are sticky, therefore the institutional manipulations and innovations during the AKP era will endure after he is gone. “This does not imply that institutional change is impossible. It is just that revisions take place in the context of existing institutions and previous innovations,” said Cook, giving the example of Egypt where the origins of current repressive laws concerning the press and civil society organizations can be traced back through any number of revisions to the 1950s and 1960s.
“In this way, authoritarianism tends to build on itself. It may eventually give out, but short of a revolution that undermines a mutually reinforcing political and social order, institutions will have a lasting impact on society,” Cook added.