Jun 30 2019

Turkey’s remarkable democratic resilience evident at polls  - analysis

Turks’ continual turnout for elections, despite all reasons for them to abandon hope in democracy, is indicative of their remarkable democratic resilience, wrote Şebnem Gümüşçü, assistant Professor of political science at Middlebury University,  in an article she penned for the Washington Post.

Voter turnout in Turkey has not dropped below 83 percent since March 2014 with the June 23 Istanbul mayoral revote registering an over 80 percent voter turnout, the article recalled.

Opposition candidate Ekrem İmamoğlu’s convincing victory of the ruling Islamist party candidate Binali Yıldırım in the June 23 vote followed the March 31 election.  The Justice and Development Party's (AKP) appealed the first vote, which it lost by a narrow margin, claiming fraud and irregularities at the ballot boxes.

The move by the AKP to persuade Turkey’s electoral board to void the Istanbul result due to alleged irregularities worked to bring together cross-section of Turkish society.

This perceived injustice is what fuelled an unprecedented voter mobilization which played a role in İmamoğlu’s victory, Gümüşçü said, noting however that AKP’s competitive authoritarianism has tilted the playing field in its own favour ‘’by systematically violating civil liberties, erecting its own media, and politicizing state institutions and the judiciary.’’

Meanwhile, the country’s media provide very limited platform for opposition candidates. 

Pro-government newspapers in the country make up 90 percent of the national circulation. Ankara has been targeting media, particularly since the 2016 coup attempt, and the most vocal and talented journalists have been put on trial, thrown in jail, or chased out of the country.

Decreasing electoral fairness under the AKP’s rule, however, has not deterred voters and Gümüşçü points to several reasons for this.

Firstly, competitive elections have been held in Turkey since 1950.

Secondly, although the AKP, despite rigging campaign cycles, has not rigged elections. And lastly, under the AKP,  elections have become the only venue for competitive politics and political action.

This tug of war between authoritarian and democratic forces in country, the article noted, appears likely continue in the foreseeable future.

 

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