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Turkey: A Democracy in Dissolution · - by by Anonymous

It is interesting to note that in Turkish there are two words for peace. The first, barış, denotes reconciliation and togetherness. The second, huzur, has connotations of tranquility and stability, but not harmony or justice. This latter is the word that Turkey’s president uses when he says that he wants peace for his country. If he continues down his current path, he will get exactly that: a well-controlled and stable state whose immense difficulties are glossed over by cool authoritarianism. The AK (justice and development) party initially looked as though it could knit together conservative, secular, and Kurdish portions of Turkish society, but the country’s president is now making a power grab that threatens the rights of all citizens.

Early in the morning of January 21st, the parliament passed Erdoğan’s package of constitutional reforms. This year, a referendum will be held wherein Turks are allowed to decide if their government shall continue with the parliamentary system used since the country’s foundation, or try a presidential system in which Erdoğan would have greater powers. Should it pass, the president would absorb all powers and responsibilities of the prime minister, gain the ability to appoint unelected cabinet members and vice presidents, and issue decrees in effect of law. The timing was curious, as the parliament was likely aware that much of the international news media would be completely preoccupied with the inauguration of Donald Trump and ensuing global protests at the time the bill was passed. Allowing Erdoğan the powers of a president prioritizes stability over representation and efficient governance over freedoms.

Originally, the fact that the AK Party enjoyed long-running leadership was viewed as a step toward westernization. Less than seven years ago, Recep Tayip Erdoğan was heralded as the brave leader that could help his country join the EU and preserve its “vibrant secular democracy,” all without sacrificing his religious roots and popularity. After its rise to power in 2002, the Islamist AK Party actively worked to assuage western fears that a Muslim party would turn Turkey’s course eastward. It dismantled authoritarian vestiges, reaffirmed its commitment to NATO, and talked with the Pentagon about support for the Iraq war in exchange for a trade deal. Erdoğan deftly convinced the west of his country’s necessity, becoming a key ally over his first decade in power. The perception of Turkish success was such that Arab countries were briefly encouraged by the United States to look to their northern neighbor for a model of how a Muslim nation might pursue secular democracy. In Erdoğan’s second decade of power, hopes of a free Turkey have been fantastically dashed. The question now is whether or not Turkey can be called a democracy at all.

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