The Question: "What is the political system in Turkey?"

Sezin Öney asked:

There is a debate about the political system in Turkey. The opposition is accusing the government of having "fascist dictatorial" aspirations.

In your view: what is the political system in Turkey?



Nurcan Baysal (journalist, writer, activist):

I am following the ongoing "fascist dictatorship" debate between the government and the opposition parties, but I do not think hypothetical speculation is very meaningful [at this juncture].

In any society, two public demands are essential:
1) People's need for justice,
2) People's need for democratic participation in the political system.

If we look at the first one, where we are as a society with regards to justice, we normally expect to see legislation become more and more even-handed and fair over time. Right now, in Turkey, instead of a more egalitarian justice system, we have a governing party that does not comply with the laws of the present legal system. Any piece of legislation put in place to control or limit the power of the government is either ignored or replaced with new, more lenient laws. The justice system in Turkey has been methodically politicised. Not being able to trust the justice system is one of the worst things that can happen to a nation.

Turkish governance is an authoritarian system, but I do not subscribe to the idea that one man, (President Recep Tayyip) Erdoğan, is responsible for this. Ultimately, everyone around Erdoğan, the government, and those who keep their silence in the face of these abuses are party to the senseless butchery of our legal system.

The second point – the democratic representation of the people - has now been practically abolished in Turkey. Kurdish mayors, (Peoples’ Democracy Party) HDP parliamentarians; representatives of millions of voters are detained. Municipal governments are placed under administrators.  The will of a minority in the country has been usurped.

Regardless of what you name the regime, justice and self-determination in Turkey are in short order.

The name is irrelevant. We are living it.

Ebru Erdem Akçay (Academic):

First and foremost, I do not yet think that Turkey is a "fascist dictatorship", although that seems to be the direction the country is going. Of course, Turkey is far from being a true democracy, it has a very authoritarian system. Right now I cannot predict whether this authoritarian regime will evolve into a "one man system", or a "party–state system."

This Friday, President Erdoğan said that elected mayors are subordinate to local party officials. AKP municipalities and local AKP organisations have been interwoven since the beginning. But nonetheless, Erdoğan announcing this is a defining moment, marking party control over the local policies and economies. During the AKP's 15-year uninterrupted period of governance, the state bureaucracy has also become integrated with the AKP. It can be said that once parliament became incapacitated following the coup attempt, the Turkish political structure started resembling a party-state system. Internal party dynamics during the 2019 election process will determine the direction of this course.

All the elements for a dictatorship are there, but despite the accelerated deterioration of democratic rights and liberties, I cannot call the system a "fascist dictatorship" yet. There are still certain sources of resistance and venues that the AKP and Erdoğan cannot control. Erdoğan himself admitted this at a speech he gave in May saying, "we still have difficulties with our social and cultural rule." The Gezi Movement, the election results of June 7, 2015, the success of the "No" campaign despite the oppression of the opposition, and the excitement over the Justice March shows that the opposition has not been wholly contained yet.

Deniz Kavukçuoğlu (Journalist-Writer):

The political language in our country is getting more and more divisive every day. CHP deputy chairman and party spokesman Bülent Tezcan calling the president a "fascist dictator" is the latest example of this. This is a grave accusation on a universal scale. This accusation does not only define the president but also his base and the political environment [of the country]…

From Hitler to Mussolini, from Franco to Salazar, all the fascist dictators in history were carried to power by fascistic masses ...

We have to highlight a fact here. We know that Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has an autocratic/authoritarian personality. This is naturally reflected in his policies. We are all disturbed by the violation of fundamental human rights in the constitution, such as free speech and the freedom to assemble or petition. We are all aware that the president shares responsibility for these violations. There are journalists, human rights activists, intellectuals, scholars, scientists in prison. We are all concerned about these.

However, I do not condone using a phrase like "fascist dictator" [to describe the president].

There are both local, presidential and parliamentary elections in 2019. The only way to win these polls is a determined and democratic fight. However, [when we define the opponent as a "fascist dictator"] then we are talking about a different kind of conflict.

It is, therefore, necessary to avoid discourse that will lead that way [to social unrest].

Cengiz Aktar (academic, writer):

If the debate between the government and the opposition grows further and moves into litigation, it will be quite entertaining, but I doubt the parties and especially the governing party would like this debate to take place in the public domain, because then the real name of the regime will be spelled out loud.

The current system of Turkey today is determined not by the performance of the government, but by the approval it receives from its constituents. You cannot have fascism without the support of the masses. Lacking support, it would be a dictatorship, an autocracy, a tyranny... The leader and the ruling party in Turkey offer their supporters the freedom to dream.

The leader, his government and his constituents' fascistic imagination jointly determine the system of government. Likewise, "fascist" does not define the leader or his governance but the supporters [of that leader]. [And] this means it is a nightmare for the future of the country.

Ümit Kardaş (lawyer, writer):

The political practices and the nation-building process of the people who founded the Republic of Turkey from a cosmopolitan empire through a modernising-nationalist paradigm were singular, totalitarian, and alienating.

The characteristics of this regime based on a Turkish-Islamic synthesis emerged in the form of the assimilation, absorption, destruction, and deportation of minorities.

It was quite clear that this regime could not evolve into a real democracy and that make-believe justice would be assembled instead of actual fair laws.

A concept of a collective and nationalistic citizenry replaced the individual, and the individual became a threat.

A criminal justice system that was based on scientific facts gradually became more militaristic in structure. The justice system had a proto-fascistic character since it was based on military ideologies and institutions. The authoritarian organisations that were established during the Republican period were based on this justice system.

While the state was oppressing the individual, it took full control of the social sphere as well.

The point we are at in the 21st century is no different. The fact that we have a multi-party regime does not change anything. (All the) parties have similar mindsets.

In other words, Turkey still has a regime that swings between proto-fascism and fascism.