Turkey at a crossroads between authoritarianism and liberalisation - analysis

Turkey is experiencing a crumbling of the broad regime coalition, leaving room for a narrower, more sectarian and coercive ruling alliance, while simultaneously being presented with the historic opportunity for radical liberalisation, wrote analysts Sinem Adar and Yektan Türkyılmaz in Open Democracy.

Analysts maintain the June 23 Istanbul municipal mayoral election rerun, which saw the opposition candidate score a landslide victory against the candidate from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), was a revitalising moment for the opposition and a nearly fatal blow to Erdoğan’s grip on power.

The loss of Turkey’s largest city and financial hub of Istanbul, where Erdoğan’s political career was launched, has rung alarm bells for the AKP, which has ruled Turkey for 17 years.

It was however, Turkey’s parliamentary elections of June 7, 2015 when the AKP government for the first time since it came to power in 2002 was unable to receive enough votes to form a single party government, that marked the beginning of a new period for the AKP, the article said. 

This crucial turning point was followed by the failed putsch of July 15, 2016, Adar and Türkyılmaz wrote, which “triggered a wholesale shift in perceptions among the ruling elites with widespread implications for the state apparatus.’’

The failed coup gave way to a reign of fear, the analysts wrote, where no group or individual has been exempt, including  the upper echelons of the government, bureaucracy and military. 

Over 300 people were killed and more than 2,100 were injured during the failed putsch of July 15, 2016, which Ankara maintains was orchestrated by Gülen movement. The Turkish government says the religious group, with U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gülen at helm, led a long-running scheme to overthrow Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan by infiltrating Turkish institutions, particularly the military, police, and judiciary.

In the 3-year crackdown by the Turkish government since the failed coup, more than 77,000 people have been jailed pending trial and about 150,000 civil servants, military personnel and others have been sacked or suspended from their jobs.

Ever since the failed putsch, Erdoğan’s regime has lurched from one political, economic and diplomatic crisis to the next, the article said, adding the resulting volatile system has been providing both Erdoğan’s allies and opponents with a steady stream of political weapons to bludgeon the “flimsy authoritarianism’’ of Turkey’s strongman.

“Erdoğan’s ambition to carve out an aggressive majority to bolster and defend his popularity has pushed the otherwise scattered rival opposition parties closer and ultimately helped to galvanise an ad hoc alliance among them,’’ Adar and Türkyılmaz wrote, noting that it was the AKP’s shelving of the peace talks with the Kurds that cost the March 31 elections.

Kurds, particularly those affiliated to the predominantly Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), supported the opposition’s Ekrem İmamoğlu in the Istanbul vote.

Meanwhile, Erdoğan ally and leader of the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Devlet Bahçeli has carved out a key role for himself in the ruling alliance, as he co-operates with groups within the AKP at times even effectively bypassing Erdoğan, the article said.

The ruling (AKP) and far-right MHP formed the “People’s Alliance,” coalition ahead of the Jun. 24, 2018 presidential and parliamentary elections. 

“Erdoğan seems to have no choice but keep Bahçeli on board at any cost,’’ it added.

Turkey’s strongman, who is likely to remain most prominent name in Turkish politics for the foreseeable future, the article said, has through his authoritarianism, ironically generated opportunities for a radical liberalisation of the Turkish political system. 

However, this will remain a hypothetical possibility, in the absence of “an appropriate collective political action and programmatic and strategic intervention,’’ the analysts concluded.