Is peaceful transition of power still possible in Turkey?
The question is a difficult one. There were certainly times in Turkey’s past when the peaceful transition of power through elections was impossible. From the founding of the republic in 1923 until the first democratic election in 1950 was such a time.
There were also times in Turkish history when governments manipulated the polls so at not to yield power. The Ottoman Empire elections of 1912 are known as the “big-stick” election because of the campaign of violence carried out by the ruling Committee of Union and Progress to stay in power. The Republican People’s Party is believed to have fixed the 1946 elections. The 1982 referendum, in which coup leader Kenan Evren was elected president, was also unfair. It is not out of the question for such manipulation to happen.
For some opponents of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Islamist government, Turkey is in an exceptional situation, in which there can no longer be a peaceful transition of power and conventional political strategy has no chance given the administration’s authoritarian nature. This group warns that Turkey might become the next Egypt.
Other opponents see Turkey as going through another authoritarian period that will only be temporary. Not as alarmed as the first group, they believe Turkey is capable of overcoming the current situation and continue their political activism within the conventional rules of party politics and election campaigning.
The configuration of the Erdoğan regime is also important. The nascent Turkish-Islamic authoritarianism is expressed through Erdoğan’s leadership, decisions and policies. But there are also other stakeholders that often go unnoticed under the president’s gigantic shadow.
A variety of political groups including nationalists and even secular-Kemalists are associates of the Erdoğan regime. For example, many secular-Kemalist diplomats happily cooperate with Erdoğan in his fierce fight with rivals abroad. Given that secular-Kemalists still occupy many places in the Turkish diplomatic service, Erdoğan is indebted to them for their sincere cooperation. No matter what their intentions, such groups’ service to the nascent authoritarian regime is very real. Many bureaucrats, despite not sharing an Islamic ideology, do not shy away from becoming agents of the Erdoğan regime.
It is quite interesting to observe how so many non-Islamist and even anti-Islamist groups invest in Erdoğan. Most of these groups are small and have no chance of success in electoral politics so ironically the Erdoğan regime has become a place of shelter for them. But given their impact within the state apparatus, their support for Erdoğan is critical.
Generally speaking, the Erdoğan regime has consolidated nationalist, Eurasianist and anti-Western groups within the state. Given that these groups have a stake in the Erdoğan regime and would be alarmed by its end, they may tolerate a more consolidated authoritarian regime. Or Turkey might again become a bureaucratic hegemonic regime, much like during the Kemalist period, in which administrative, military and judicial actors share power with Erdoğan.