Is Turkey Really a 'Vibrant Democracy'?

It’s easy and tempting to think that a 99% Muslim country is going to turn toward Islamism. Yet this may be happening in Turkey despite the fact that less than 10% of Turks describe themselves as “fully devout” (KONDA's "Religion, Secularism and the Veil in Daily Life" Survey). For tens of millions of Turks, religiosity is a private matter, an attitude parallel to that in the United States.

The problem is that there is a minority of pro-Islamists who have been allowed to take control of Turkey's ruling party, the AKP, although at the ballot box, the party represents nearly half of the Turkish people due to a combination of the ineptitude of the opposition, the AKP's  far superior organization, and its exploitation of state power.

Despite its claims to be a moderate centrist party "on the pattern of Europe's Christian Democrats" and a good manager of the economy and foreign relations, there is much evidence that the AKP has increasingly been fundamentally transforming Turkey while tolerating rampant cronyism, which has effectively lead to a redistribution of wealth and power. Consequently, a small percentage of Turkey's population -- also only a segment of the AKP voters -- have been politically and financially empowered at the expense of the rest of the Turkish people.

As a result of a highly centralized, top-down system, the party leader, in this case Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan, practically chooses every parliamentary candidate. The parliamentary system allows him as prime minister to control both the executive and the legislative branches of the government. The current regime has advanced steadily to add control over the courts and media, and now even the military is under severe pressure.

In Turkey, the president is supposed to be above political parties once elected and has traditionally played such a role. However, that tradition appears to have ended with the 2007 election of Erdoğan sidekick Abdullah Gül by the Turkish parliament.

Before 2010, the judicial branch was rather independent. Corruption existed but the courts did balance the prime minister and the executive-legislative branch controlled by him.

In September 2010m the regime conducted a referendum that clearly violated the EU Venice Commission’s own Code of Good Practice on Referendums, which states: “There must be an intrinsic connection between the various parts of each question put to the vote, in order to guarantee the free suffrage of the voter.” Instead, however, popular provisions to increase freedom and democracy were used to gain a vote in favor of a text that included anti-democratic changes to the judiciary.

As a result, now the judiciary is all but controlled by the prime minister. It may appear that the system has become more democratic, but members of the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Board of Judges & Prosecutors are now chosen, for all practical purposes, by one man. With the prime minister controlling all three branches of the government, Turkey has taken a critical step toward a possible dictatorship.