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The 'Turkish Model' of Democracy: Neither Moderate nor Democratic

How can one party singlehandedly cause so many detrimental changes yet repeatedly win three elections over a decade with increasing voter support? Turkey’s 10 percent minimum threshold for getting seats in parliament inflates the leading party’s representation. The AKP came into office with close to a two-thirds’ majority on the basis of about 30 percent of the vote.

One key advantage the AKP has enjoyed is a relatively successful Turkish economy. And since Western governments and media don’t criticize the regime, it can claim that it has increased Turkey’s prestige and power in the world.

But central to this strategy is the conquest of all national institutions, like the mass media. In 2009, for example, the Dogan Media Group -- one of the largest media enterprises to be accused of being “anti-government” -- was slapped with a tax fine of about $3 billion, an amount that exceeded its market value. The fine is held over its head as a way of achieving a more positive stance toward the government.

AKP appeases its core contingency by arranging the sale of public and other key businesses to supporters. It has promised, but not delivered, many things, like improved health care and education. For instance, doctors have been forced to work only in government hospitals, and are given quotas that often give them five minutes per examination and three minutes to fill dental cavities if they want to meet production quotas and receive a full salary.

Enough “pro-Western” foreign policy steps have been take to ensure continued U.S. support, yet many of the regime’s policies -- like its close relationship to Iran, support for radical Islamist groups, and hostility toward Israel -- run counter to U.S. and Western policies. The human rights issues within Turkey are largely ignored.

If the current Turkish regime is the model for the entire Middle East or Muslim world, this is a rather questionable model. While the United States has been self-critical about past support for dictators, the Turkish model is likely to give it new, albeit elected, dictatorships to support.