Turkish political structure responsible for polarisation – academic

The political structure of Turkey, which is strongly based around “loyalty and obedience to a single, central person instead of the organisation itself”, has been a significant factor in the polarisation of public life and the deterioration of democracy, Jenny White, a professor in Turkish Studies at Stockholm University, wrote in a recent paper.

“Hierarchies characterising Turkish political life are brittle because they are not founded in organisational competence, in rules and procedures, in merit, or even on a relationship of trust between leader and followers,” she wrote, calling the form of organisation “spindle autocracy”.

“Rather than being precisely strategic, actions within a spindle autocracy are ad hoc and reflect only the goals and desires of the leader. Disobedience and disagreement, as in public comments or civil demonstrations critical of the leader or his policies, become personal betrayals that require the dissenter to leave the group or be shut out of society.”

Spindle autocracy is an inherently fragile system, based on personalities and egos, she argues.

“In a spindle autocracy, if a person leaves the group, they take their network with them. This can cascade into a realignment of the entire system: while central figures remain, the surrounding parties and their followers can be ephemeral, shifting loyalties from one faction to another, demonising former friends as enemies, and spinning out new networks formed along the same lines around new leaders.”

That means that the defection of a few key players could lead to the falling apart of even the most dominant network, White said.

“Despite Erdoğan’s attempt to establish certainty in his power, Turkey’s political culture is unlikely to support unrivalled leadership, and we can expect—and already begin to see—the unravelling of existing networks.”

However, it may be in his interests to keep levels of political turbulence lower down high in order to maintain order at the top, White said.

“Turkey’s strong, personalised, divided culture of group belonging explains why a single, exceptional person can be so effective,” she said.

“Much as a spindle gives the illusion of consolidation while individual strands continue to form and fall away, vicious cycles of polarisation and control have created endemic turbulence that hinders productivity and social integration and that, counterintuitively, helps keep strongman leaders like Erdoğan in place.”