Reuters Erdogan near Ataturk's mausoleum in Ankara, August 2005.

Erdogan's Tightrope Act

Between Democracy and State Monopoly in Turkey

On June 7, Turkish voters will head to the polls to decide the future character of the Republic of Turkey. On the surface, the parliamentary elections will pit Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) against three major competitors. The real question, however, is whether the ballots will supply the AKP with 330 parliamentary seats, which would give the party a supermajority and would allow Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s three-time prime minister and now president, to change Turkey’s constitution and establish what he calls a “Turkish-style” presidential system. Such an outcome would stand a high chance of rolling back the country’s democratic advances ushered in by the AKP’s original 2002 electoral victory.

Erdogan, who held the prime minister’s post from 2003 to 2014, seeks to transform his new position, currently largely ceremonial, into a role as the country’s chief administrator. He would have strong executive powers without the checks and balances of an American-style system. In a sense, therefore, Turkish voters will be deciding on the future of Turkish democracy—and on whether the government’s growing power over the people or the people’s growing desire for personal freedom will prevail.

Current trends do not look favorable for Erdogan. Three and a half weeks out, a survey by Metropoll, the Turkish polling company with the best track record of predicting election results, indicates that an increasing number of voters are growing tired of the AKP. Asked about their views on Erdogan’s plan for a presidential system, almost 55 percent of respondents opposed it, with just under 32 percent in favor. When asked to choose from a list of descriptions of Erdogan’s proposed “Turkish-style” presidentialism, including “a democratic form of government” and a system “more efficient in administrative matters,” 59 percent of respondents picked the option that described the potential system as one that “causes authoritarianism.”

Voters are also growing wary about the direction Turkey is heading. A full 50 percent thought that their country was

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