No. 13: January-June 2015

Gaye Güngör

Turkish Democracy

Academic Foresights

How do you analyze the present situation of Turkish democracy?

I see Turkey and Turkish democracy at a critical crossroads. It highly reminds me of Henrik Ibsen’s play - An Enemy of the People. Written in 1882, the play is a potent depiction of corruption and societal decay in a Norwegian spa town.  Ibsen intriguingly warns his fellow citizens on the direction where his country is headed.  Neither Ibsen’s Norway nor today’s Turkey seems to be moving in the right direction.  After 12 years of the Justice and Development Party rule, Turkey faces the risk of slipping into authoritarianism. If not an authoritarian regime yet, Turkey falls into the “hybrid regime” category in the sixth edition of the Economist Intelligence Unit’s (EUI) annual report, also known as the Democracy Index, on the state of global democracy for the year 2012. The index covers 165 independent states, and it is based on five categories. These categories include necessary conditions for democracy like the electoral process and pluralism as well as civil liberties, but as the report acknowledges, these conditions would not be sufficient if they are not accompanied by transparent and at least minimally efficient government, political participation and political culture.  But the most important observation of the report, in my opinion, the emphasis made on the character of democracy. Democracy is a living organism. That is “even in long-established ones, democracy can corrode if not nurtured and protected” (EIU Democracy Index 2013) Exactly! In the first report dated 2007 Turkey ranked 88th, but according to the latest one, Turkey ranks 93rd among 165 independent countries.

Let me briefly analyze Turkey on these five dimensions.  The first necessary condition of a democracy is free and fair elections. Turkey’s record on this is bleak.  Here I will refer to two documents. The first one is the Compliance Report (2012) prepared by the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) of the Council of Europe (COE).  In this report, the GRECO established that Turkey failed to adopt the recommended reforms on campaign financing- political funding rules that deal with prohibited funding sources, donation ceilings and obligations on candidates to disclose their assets and submit specified financial information during a campaign.

Let me turn to the second document now, which was issued two years after the GRECO report. The second document prepared by the joint international election observation mission of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe reported on Turkey’s first direct Presidential elections.  The 2014 report raised serious concerns over the Prime Minister- presidential candidate-Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s use of his official position as a PM and over-biased media coverage, which gave him a “distinct advantage” over other two candidates. The mission found the legal framework conducive for holding democratic elections but criticized campaign finance, comprehensive reporting, and sanctions. The report paints gloomy picture of the legal framework for presidential elections emphasizing its violation of the legal hierarchy. The Law on Presidential Elections (LPE), the new law adopted in haste without the support of the opposition or public consultation, has no reference to the 1961 Law on Basic Provisions on Elections and Voter Registers, the main law on elections.  The LPE sparked a heated debate in the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TBMM) and the main opposition party-the Republican People’s Party (CHP)- took several provisions of the LPE to the Constitutional Court.  What creates controversy, however, was the lack of a provision to make it obligatory for the presidential candidates to resign from their public posts.  The Court dismissed the request.  The Turkish Prime Minister, even after he was declared as the winner of the August 10 presidential elections by the Higher Electoral Board (YSK) on August 15, failed to resign until his inauguration date of August 28, 2014. Erdogan violated Articles 101 and 102 of the Turkish Constitution and Article 20 of the LPE. The last paragraph of Article 101 of the Constitution reads, “If the President-elect is a member of a party, his/her relationship with his party shall be severed and his/her membership of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey shall cease.”

Going back to the five dimensions, let me now talk about the civil liberties, the second necessary condition of a democracy. Civil liberties in Turkey, that sounds like an oxymoron! Here I would like to focus on the new “Draft law changing various articles of the Law on the Powers and Duties of the Police and in Statutory Decrees.” The so-called security bill proposes expansion of police powers to search people and vehicles without a court warrant. Additionally, the police get the power to detain people for up to 48 hours without the authorization of a prosecutor. The draft law also allows the police forces to use disproportionate force against civilians against international standards.  And finally the bill gives governors the power to instruct police to pursue particular crimes and suspects, an authority belonging to the prosecutors and judges, breaching the separation of powers principle between legislative, executive, and the judiciary. This is what worries me most. Across the lifespan of its rule, the Justice and Development Party’s new laws, amendments to the existing laws, and regulations have gradually violated the Constitution’s Separation of Powers. Connecting with the three sufficient conditions of democracy- transparent and at least minimally efficient government, political participation and political culture-I would say, in a political environment where the separation of powers principle is violated and adequate checks and balances guaranteeing freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and civil liberties, we cannot talk about democracy. The European Commission’s 2014 Turkey Progress Report raises serious doubts about the future of Turkish democracy. Since 2004, the European Commission issues its recommendations on Turkey’s progress towards accession.  But the latest one is scathing. Turkey scores low on transparency, accountability and the rule of law. I should not forget about corruption. Turkey is depicted as a country plagued by chronic corruption. The way the Turkish government handled the corruption allegations contributed to these observations. The executive interfered heavily into the independence, impartiality and efficiency of the judiciary, Amendments to the Law on the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) and the Law on the Justice Academy were adopted hastily without any stakeholder consultation, but most importantly they transferred significant powers from the plenary to the Minister of Justice. Upon the law’s entry into force, all staff working for the HSYK was laid off including the Secretary General, Deputy Secretaries General, the President and Deputy Presidents of the Inspection Board, inspectors, rapporteur judges and administrative staff. They were replaced by staff nominated by the Minister of Justice, in his capacity as President of the HSYK. A number of former staff (approximately 66 %) was reappointed.

Regarding impartiality, no improvements were made towards practical arrangements at courthouses and during trials regarding judges and prosecutors.  When it comes to the efficiency of the judiciary, the outlook is no different.  There is an over load where the number of pending cases before the Court of Cassation increased to 582 642 in July 2014 compared to 544 169 in the same period of 2013.

As regards freedom of expression, debate on sensitive matters such as the Kurdish and the Armenian issues was open and lively. The ‘Action Plan for the Prevention of Violations of the European Convention on Human Rights’ (see above — Judicial system) envisages revision of some provisions of the Turkish Criminal Code that restrict freedom of expression and freedom of the press in the areas where the ECtHR found Turkey to be in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Action Plan, however, does not envisage revision of all relevant provisions of the Anti-Terror Law or of the Criminal Code that have been used to limit freedom of expression.

In your opinion, how will the situation likely evolve over the next five years?

Turkey’s near future is fraught with peril. I would say, it all depends on the next general elections to be held in 2015, but when there is no doubt on the possible outcome, there is not much to say. Turkish voters will go to the polls in June to elect a new parliament, but many feel disillusioned.  The latest polls suggest a victory for the ruling AKP resulting in voter apathy.  Many Turks refuses to vote, when the outcome is obvious.

What are the structural long-term perspectives?

Administrative reform is the key. Turkey’s administrative capacity must be enhanced for a functioning democracy. The World Bank defines administrative capacity as the capacity “to manage the complex processes and interactions that constitute a working political and economic system.” The European Commission accounts limited progress in the area of public administration reform. Significant concerns over removals and reassignments of civil servants lead to politicization of the public administration.                                                            

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Gaye Güngör is an Assistant Professor in the Department of International Relations at Gediz University.  She received her Ph.D. in Political Science from Florida International University-Miami. Prior to joining Gediz University, she was a “Max Weber Post-Doctoral Fellow” at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy. She has also been a visiting lecturer at Humboldt University, University of Miami, University of Florida, and Vesalius College in Brussels, and a visiting scholar at the Center for European Studies, University of Florida. She is the author of numerous articles in leading academic journals.

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