Question of democracy in the Turkish Republic

On the 29th October, the Turkish Republic marked its 94th anniversary.

The Justice and Development Party (AKP) government has never concealed its distaste for secular, national commemorations. Instead, they have been promoting some significant dates from the Ottoman history and Islamic holidays as popular occasions to celebrate.

With secularism eroding before their eyes, the non-AKP supporters are holding onto republican symbols and traditions with growing enthusiasm.

Whilst almost all agree on the need to resist the Islamist tinkering with recent history, there does not seem to be a strong consensus on which gains of the republic that must be safeguarded as a matter of priority.

Watching the never-ending debate that resurfaces every year around this time, the biggest confusion appears to be over republicanism and democracy.

Some see republic and democracy as interchangeable. For them, democracy is only possible in a republic and the erosion of political rights and freedoms are simply attacks on the republican ideal.

For others, protecting the republic is their only priority. They see the Turkish republic under attack both from inside and outside.  When faced with threats to state and sovereignty, democracy becomes a luxury.

Turkish Republic established in 1923, by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, a visionary leader and an exceptional reformer, was not a democracy as we understand it today.

The AKP government of President Erdogan uses democracy as its preferred modus operandi and in the strictest sense of the word, today’s Turkey is a democracy -an authoritarian and illiberal one.

If the concept of republicanism is confusing enough for the man and woman on the street, the idea of democracy is even more difficult to grasp.

The Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu is accusing the government of using democracy merely as a tool and challenging them to an early election.

Mr. Kılıçdaroğlu has a difficult job. Not only he has to inspire his party’s supporters, he has to convince his own party members, too.

Last week, he criticised President Erdogan for forcing some elected city mayors to resign.

“If there is any corruption or illegality, the Interior Ministry should do its job. In other cases, forcing people to resign is neither democratic, nor moral, nor right,” he said.

It was his own supporters alongside leading anti-AKP commentators that ridiculed Mr. Kılıçdaroğlu for this principled stand.

Meral Akşener, former interior minister and right-wing politician, who launched the new “Good Party” last week, is also promising to uphold the rule of law and human rights.

Her political base is even more illiberal when it comes to acknowledging “equal rights for all”. The fact that the new party did not feel the need to address the country’s Kurdish problem, says it all.

Turkey is indeed, still a republic. But it is no longer one where the elected representatives cannot take away the inalienable rights of the citizen.

More worryingly, its government and opposition share such a wide range of characteristics in their political cultures that when it comes to dealing with the fundamentals of democracy, both are equally ready to temper with them.

This post is also available in: Turkish

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