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Behind The Veil Of Democracy

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has successfully established an authoritarian system in a democratic set up! He has become so powerful after being elected as the president for the second time that he enjoys the power to appoint ministers, bureaucrats and judges. Although the post of prime minister is yet to be abolished, the president also enjoys the right to intervene in the legal system and to declare emergency.
Now, the Turkish economy is going through a crisis. The rate of inflation rose in the past 12 months, as the Turkish Lira hit a record low on July 19 against the US Dollar and the unemployment rate touched 10.2% in June. President Erdoğan – who sent at least 160,000 people to jail after the failed coup in 2016 – has been accused of destroying the economy, as well as the democracy. Many opposition leaders either went missing or left the country in the last couple of years. However, Erdoğan received more than 53% of votes in June 24 Presidential Elections to stamp his authority in the Turkish political system.
Why the people of a nation founded by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk chose an ultra-nationalist Islamist dictator, like Erdoğan, as their leader?

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk

Many blame the voters’ ignorance. Yes, they are right. History doesn’t always reflect people’s wisdom while choosing a leader. A number of democratically elected rulers prefer a dictatorial system…… Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, (Hungarian Prime Minister) Viktor Orbán…. However, it would be incorrect to say that people have made a mistake by electing these rulers. The inability of the political parties, civil society and the media to serve the people leads to the destruction of a democratic system. And the populist leaders use this opportunity to consolidate power.
Since the introduction of multi-party system in 1950, right-wing and leftist parties have ruled Turkey. And the Army – the self-proclaimed guardian of secularism – has always played a secondary role. Occasionally, the Armed Forces interfered in politics mainly to control the right-wing religious parties. In the pretext of safeguarding secularism and democracy, the Army had played an ‘active political’ role in 1960, 1971, 1980 and in 1997.
Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) captured power in 2003 by using the people’s anger against the former ruler, ‘secular’ groups and political elites. Before becoming the president in 2014 for the first time, Erdoğan had served as the Prime Minister for 12 years in three phases. He was a bit moderate in his early days. However, the Gezi Park protests (2013) and the failed coup (2016) made him desperate.

President Erdoğan

On May 28, 2013, a wave of demonstrations and civil unrest hit Turkey, as protesters initially opposed the government’s urban development plan for Taksim Gezi Park in Istanbul. Later, the peaceful protests turned into a violent anti-government movement. The protesters slammed the government for launching attacks on the freedom of press, of expression, assembly and also on secularism. President Erdoğan strongly criticised Turkish preacher, religious leader, writer and renowned political figure Muhammed Fethullah Gülen for encouraging hardline secular outfits. He also blasted some senior Army officers for launching the anti-government protests. As expected, Gülen – who lives in exile in the US – denied the allegation.

Muhammed Fethullah Gülen

As the US refused to hand-over Gülen to the Turkish authorities, President Erdoğan sacked rebel military officers, shut down a number of media houses and sent a number of opposition leaders to jail. He also held a Constitutional Referendum on April 16, 2017 in order to cement his grip on power. In an attempt to earn people’s trust, the authoritarian ruler highly appreciated the Ottoman Empire and also highlighted its glory. He managed to convince a section of people with his words, as they started to believe that Turkey and its Islamist society would become the most powerful once again under his rule and enjoy the glory of the Ottoman Empire.

As per the rules we have learned from the study of history, the fall of Erdoğan and the victory of democracy are inevitable. But, we need to consider three issues seriously – Why the populist leaders across the globe become so powerful, why the voters don’t have the confidence (and respect) in democratic values, and why democracies give way to tyrannies?
Although Plato thought that political regimes followed a predictable evolutionary course – from oligarchy to democracy to tyranny, a further review is required to serve the interests of democracy (still the best form of government).

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