Friday, October 14, 2011

Turkey’s ‘flawed’ democracy -- a watershed

Since the mid ‘80s on, with many ups and downs, Turkey has remained a focal point of a massive transformation process. Every day that passes is an emphasis on its irreversible nature.

The formation of problems during the ‘80s and their peaceful or violent definitions in the ‘90s led to a turning point in early the 2000s. It can be argued that the country stands at the threshold of “deepening democracy” as it enters the second decade of the millennium.

The transformation process was accelerated by a powerful economic program and accession negotiations with the EU, both of which have increased the global visibility of the country. Its importance in regional and transnational contexts continues to increase. At the same time, the very process of transformation has brought to the fore risks and challenges through the demands of different segments and the push for equality. It has been expressed by “institutional fights,” polarization, political asymmetry and more. Concerns have focused on the field of basic rights and freedoms.

Are transformation and democratization in synch with each other? Or, as others argue, is the gap between them increasing in the sense that part of the democratization process lags behind, displaying the incapabilities of those who govern through politics and bureaucracy? These questions are vital because there needs to be a constructive correlation between the two elements if Turkey is to be a place where the complex social fabric does not dissolve, where coexistence in diversity and equality is fully secured; a country that contributes to the solution of regional and global problems.

As transformation accelerates and democratization hiccups in keeping up with it, Turkey retains a position among the world’s “flawed” democracies. This major argument comes from a fresh study, titled “The Perception of Democracy” and conducted jointly by the İstanbul Policy Center, the National Democratic Institute and the MetroPOLL Center for Social and Strategic Research. Its authors, Fuat Keyman and Özge Kemahlıoğlu, set the following diagnosis on Turkey today:

“It has come to the final phase of transition to democracy, but is a ‘flawed’ one, which has been unable to strengthen democracy in its state-government and state-society/individual relations. It even feeds the perception that it may develop into a ‘mutant’ regime.”

“Mutant” is a term the authors use to refer to a model where the state and government have persistent problems with each other and restrictions on rights and freedoms remain as “local norms.”

In other words, 2011’s Turkey is stuck between a full transition to democracy and the increasing risk of remaining somewhere between “half accomplished” and authoritarianism.

The study is based on two consecutive field studies, involving 1,514 people over 26 provinces. Its aim was to find out whether the perceptions of the people overlapped with the overall perceptions on the negative correlation I highlighted above.

The results are strikingly identical. The main talking points were outlined under rights, freedoms, citizenship, fairness of elections, quality of democratic governance, perceptions on institutional changes and the views on the “de facto” regime.

The response to, “If you were to rate between 1 and 10 the quality of democracy today in Turkey, how would you?” was 5.03. To the question, “Do you believe the ethnic, religious and other minorities can express themselves sufficiently?” 49.9 percent responded negatively. Furthermore, those who believe that “journalists hesitate to express their views” are 55.4 percent, while 62.5 percent think that political parties do not compete under fair conditions. A total of 41.8 percent of the respondents believe that the army is not under the civilian government’s control.

The study is full of such details that seem to confirm that Turkey to them stands “in the middle.” Concerns remain, mistrust is intact and so are expectations.

Keyman and Kemahlıoğlu reach several conclusions in the end of their 26-page study. First, the system is a flawed one in the eyes of citizens, bearing the risk of shifting to a “mutant” one. Next, the people’s perception of the democracy itself is also flawed, meaning that the political culture to consolidate it is flawed. Third, people place higher priority on “order and stability” than on “freedom and representation.” People demand transparency and accountability, but have a “limited” view on the rights and freedoms of others. Also, polarization between people who support the government and those who support the opposition is also a variable that must be taken seriously. With this information in mind, and the additional data I conveyed in an earlier article -- namely, that some 72 percent of the voters in general want a brand new constitution -- one can easily conclude that the phase of ‘deepening the democracy’ after June 12 elections will be a tougher one than ever before.


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