Turkish Democracy at a Crossroads

CHP party protest on Istiklal Street, Beyoglu, Istanbul, Turkey. February 2008.
Turkish Democracy at a Crossroads - Charalambos Konstantinidis


In December 1999, Turkey officially became a candidate for accession to the European Union, a decision that was hailed as a milestone in that country's turbulent history. Turkey seemed to be at last within reach of membership in the community of Western, prosperous democracies that its founder, Kemal Atatiirk, had always tried to imitate. However, the Europeans soon made it clear that unless Turkey made substantial progress in rendering its political system purely democratic, accession would remain a distant dream.

This insistence on Turkey's full democratization might sound striking if one keeps in mind that countries with only little more than a decade of demo­cratic experience, such as Poland and Hungary, will certainly join the Union much sooner. Indeed, the Turks can arguably boast that since 1950 they have enjoyed free elections, a relatively free press, a multiparty system, secularism, the right to unionize and a quasi-independent judicial system.1 And all this, they are quick to note, despite unfavorable geopolitical surroundings, which include notoriously authoritarian regimes such as Syria, Iraq, Iran, and, until recently, the USSR. Why then is the democratic progress of Turkey overlooked for the sake of some imperfections?

The reason is simply that Turkey has set upon itself the objective of be­coming a ''Western European democracy." Therefore, it has to be judged based on the standards prevailing in the West, not on those of its neighborhood. Clearly such a comparison does not favor Turkey. The military still plays a major role in the political process, either directly or indirectly; political parties have repeatedly been shut down by the authorities; and freedom of expression and human rights in general are often arbitrarily restricted in the name of the protection of "national sovereignty, national security, public order, general peace, the public interest and the public morals."2

This paper will examine the major characteristics of democracy in Turkey and propose reasons for the country's inability to complete its democratization. In order to do so, it is important at first to establish what democracy is, what standards it entails, and in what stages it can be accomplished. This theoreti­cal framework will be applied to the case of Turkey, in order to show that its unfinished democratization is the combined result of fundamental flaws in the application of democratic principles, as well as the inability and/or unwilling­ness of Turkish society to rid itself from the "cushion" of military intervention and assume the burden of democratic leadership itself.

Democracy: A Theoretical Approach

Which Democracy?

There are numerous notions associated with democracy nowadays, though not all of them may qualify as indispensable elements of a democratic system, nor can they necessarily be applicable on all societies or at all times. We usu­ally distinguish two major schools of thought in regard to the characteristics of a democracy: One seeks a minimalist definition, namely the existence of free elections, and another emphasizes the need for a number of further guaran­tees on individual and civic liberties in a truly democratic society.

The first view draws on the arguments of Joseph Schumpeter, who claimed that "the democratic method is that institutional arrangement for arriving at political decisions in which individuals acquire the power to decide by means of a competitive struggle for the people's vote."3 Samuel Huntington, in his book on democratization The Third Wave, subscribes to this definition, looking for democracies wherever there are "fair, honest and periodic elections, in which candidates freely compete for votes and in which virtually all the public popu­lation is eligible to vote."4

Huntington recognizes the minimalism of this definition, but considers elections held under the aforementioned conditions as a sine qua non for a democracy. Sporadic elements of individual freedoms may exist in other re­gimes, but without elections, one cannot speak of democratic legitimacy and thus of a true democracy. For this reason, he chooses to exclude from his definition any "fuzzy norms [such as liberte, egalite, fraternite, which] do not yield useful analysis."5

This minimalist approach, however, is not useful for the purposes of the present analysis. Here, Huntington's definition would certainly lead to what his opponents have termed the "electoralist fallacy": In many so-called democ­racies free elections have not guaranteed popular sovereignty, as the former rulers have kept for themselves substantial prerogatives even 'under the new regime6 (and Turkey is, as will be shown, a case in point).

For this reason, the broader definition of democracy of another school of thought is more pertinent, in particular that of Robert Dahl in his book On Democracy. Dahl has coined the term "polyarchy" to describe the way demo­cratic principles have actually been applied in Western Europe and North America. The term, derived from the Greek words meaning "many'' and "rule", implies a "rule by many" as opposed to monarchy (one ruler) or oligarchy (few rulers). Dahl uses the term to refer to a political system that basically includes elected officials, free, fair and frequent elections, freedom of expression, alterna­tive sources of information, associational autonomy, and inclusive citizenship.7

In breaking down this definition, Dahl argues that large-scale democracy is possible today only through representation, where officials are selected among the people with a mandate to manage the domestic and foreign affairs of the state. The reference to elections (where Dahl and Huntington agree) specifies the terms under which this mandate is given: The elections ha.ve to be free (people should vote free from coercion), fair (everyone runs for office under equal terms), while the mandate has reasonably limited duration (elections every 4-5 years).

Freedom of expression bestows citizens with the right to discuss and criti­cize without fear of punishment any matter and in particular issues related to the state and the political process. The fourth criterion is inextricably linked with the ones above: If the citizen is responsible for choosing his leaders, a wise choice can only be made through consultation of alternative, independently run means of information, such as newspapers and the radio.

To exercise their rights, citizens should also be permitted to associate themselves freely and contribute to the democratic process in the form of po­litical parties, trade unions, citizens' movements or non-governmental organi­zations. A final indispensable element, then, has to be an inclusive citizenship, i.e. one that does not exclude any members of the society and does not distin­guish them in terms of their ethnic backgrounds, religion or sex.

How Can States Become Polyarchies?

In addition to the criteria for a polyarchical political system, Dahl also describes what he considers to be the "conditions" for a stable democracy.8 Discussion of these conditions is useful here as they complement the afore­mentioned democratic institutions and have important implications for the nature of democracy in Turkey. Essential conditions are control of military and police by elected officials, democratic beliefs and political culture, and no strong foreign control hostile to democracy.

Civilian officials, even if they are de jure in power through free and fair elections, also need to be able to exercise their functions de facto. This is im­possible if the military and the police, which guarantee the Weberian state's legal monopoly on coercion, 9 have "reserved domains" of authority, are in­volved in the political process, or at the very least exert some sort of "behind the scenes" leverage on civilians. Democracy can also hardly take deep roots in a country lacking a firm belief in its benefits as a system, and where a culture of negotiation and conciliation is missing. There is however no doubt that a democratic culture takes time and effort to build, and is normally the result of a successful process of democratic consolidation.

Apart from these essential conditions, Dahl also cites two other favorable for democracy conditions: a free-market economy and cultural homogeneity. Free market economy has historically been correlated with the successful es­tablishment of liberal democracies. It is important to keep in mind though that if liberal democracy requires a free-market economy, the opposite is not true.10 As Dahl puts it: Economic inequality often hardly coincides with - and may indeed prove an obstacle to - true political equality. Finally, Dahl speaks of cultural homogeneity. It is much easier for a common ideal (such as democ­racy) to develop and be accepted by people sharing certain values than in a country whose population consists of multiple ethnicities. Even in the latter case though, democracy is possible (as the United States example has shown), but it largely depends on the success of an additional step to the ones already mentioned, namely the integration of different ethnic affiliations into a new, common national conscience that will lead to a truly inclusive citizenship.

There is no doubt that Dahl's definition requires states to meet particu­larly high standards in order to qualify as modern democracies. Indeed, it is often the case that even the traditional western democracies might fall short of satisfying them in their entirety.12 Overall however, these criteria do form an accurate picture of what a realistic application of the democratic ideal may be nowadays, and in the following pages the Turkish political system will be evalu­ated according to them.

Is It Possible to Measure Democratic Progress?

Our understanding of modern Turkey cannot be complete without a dis­cussion of the country's progress towards meeting the democratic standards over the past decades. Generally, this process entails two stages - transition and consolidation - which normally, but not necessarily, occur in that order. In their quintessential book on democratic transitions, Guillermo O'Donnell and Philippe C. Schmitter define transition as the interval between the end of a political system and the establishment of its successor: "Transitions are delim­ited, on the one side, by the launching of the process of dissolution of an au­thoritarian regime and, on the other, by the installation of some form of democ­racy, the return to some form of authoritarian rule, or the emergence of a revolutionary alternative."13

Consequently, transition does not have to lead to democracy. This is often due to the fact that the "rules of the game," to the extent that there are any in a transitory period, tend to be in the hands of the authoritarian rulers who may "retain discretionary power over arrangements and rights which in a stable democracy would be reliably protected by the constitution and various inde­pendent institutions."14 When these leaders start to relinquish some of their privileges that are directly linked to their authority over the state, then a pro­cess of transition is underway.

O'Donnell and Schmitter's definition makes it easier to recognize a transi­tion when it occurs, but it is vague as to when it is completed, particularly in the context of democratization. According to Juan J. Linz and Alfred Stepan, the following conditions have to be met in order for a transition leading to a democratic outcome to be successful:

A democratic transition is complete when sufficient agreement has been reached about political procedures to produce an elected government, when a govern­ment comes to power that is the direct result of free and popular vote, when this government de facto has the authority to generate new policies, and when the executive, legislative and judicial power generated by the new democracy does not have to share power with other bodies de jure.15

A completed transition, therefore, should lead to the satisfaction of several of Dahl's criteria. This definition then makes the very important distinction: Lib­eralization (the attribution of certain rights to the individual) does not equal democratization unless it is linked to genuine popular involvement in the po­litical system.16

The process of democratization however cannot be concluded unless a fundamental goal of consolidation has been reached. In simpler terms consoli­dation means that democracy is considered "the only game in town," the only political system envisaged by the clear majority of its citizens. If an emerging democratic state faces the fear of domestic (or external, as Dahl would argue) subversion, it will find it hard to focus its energy into something much more productive than simply defending itself. Only after such obstacles have been removed can its democracy be considered consolidated: still striving to assure its citizens more rights but free from the threat of a rollback. Finally, Linz and Stepan note that a consolidated democracy requires the rule of law, a function­ing state bureaucracy and of course a political class trusted to carry out its tasks, rendering any alternative political system unnecessary.17

The definitions above may imply that consolidation should generally fol­low transition; however, transition does not have to be completed in order for consolidation to begin. Indeed, in the case of Chile there were signs of consoli­dation in the early 1990's before all the elements of transition had been achieved, whereas in Portugal they were achieved simultaneously.18 This should not be confusing: the two notions may be distinct, hut they are also quite naturally interconnected. In fact, in Turkey some of the prerequisites of transition and consolidation have been fulfilled without the completion of either. The follow­ing pages will explain why and how this has been the case.

The Turkish Experiment With Democracy

Ottoman Legacy and the Republic of Turkey

On October 29, 1923, the Grand Turkish National Assembly proclaimed the Turkish Republic and elected Kemal Atatiirk as its first president. The illustrious leader of the Turkish War of Independence of 1919-22 was charged with a daunting task, having to build a nation-state from scratch on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire. Apart from the difficulties present in almost any state­building effort, Atatiirk faced an even more formidable obstacle: the Ottoman legacy. An examination of this legacy is indispensable at this point, for it ex­plains many of the constraints of the current political system; only after these confining conditions have been overcome can we really speak of a completed transition.

Even though Atatiirk proved capable of reforming even the most profound characteristics of the Turkish society (secularism, Latin alphabet, abolition of the fez), he was much more cautious in changing the form of the state. As Sunar and Sayari note:

[T]he overall system remained similar in its structure to the Ottoman past. It was organized, cohesive, and closed at the top, with selective penetration and restricted institutional permeation of society. It was primordial, segmented, and disconnected at the bottom. These characteristics had strong effects upon the nature of the later democratic process. The state-dominant, bureaucrati­cally constituted political system, its formal institutionalization in a regime d'assemblee, the weakly organized, diffuse, and inert periphery, and the low level of ideological and institutional permeation of the periphery- all of the fac­tors had a shaping effect on the mode of transition to democracy and the demo­cratic process itself.19

Atatiirk's revolution from above required a centralized state, to ensure the imple­mentation of his program, and a periphery that could not pose any serious resistance. Thus a strong state bureaucracy was needed to guarantee control of this reformation process. Liberalism and democracy clearly did not fit this process, and therefore never became Kemalist principles per se.20

It is indicative of the attitude of Kemalism toward the individual that the latter was completely excluded from participation in this process, even though it affected the very foundations of individual life. This was a consequence of both culture and ideology. Culturally, the Turks "are agglutinative, with a strong sense of group membership and a concomitant - almost instinctive - aware­ness of an obligation to provide assistance to others when required."21 There­fore, individualism, a characteristic of Western liberal democracy, is a foreign concept for the average Turk. This cultural trait became a major tenet of Kemalism, and was transformed into an overall "denial of the idea of a pluralist society in favor of an organic view of society and people."22 In this system, pluralism, personal freedom and individuality do not fit, and an allusion to them may even pose a threat to this organic view that lies at the core of the Turkish state.

Creating Turkish Subjects or Citizens?

The success of the new nation-state and the Republic depended largely on the successful creation of a Turkish national identity and citizenship, respec­tively. This was probably the hardest goal to accomplish. The Ottoman Empire had been a melting pot, a mosaic of innumerable nationalities that had man­aged to coexist peacefully for centuries under the sultan's rule. After World War I, with its painful experience of nationalism and the distrust it fostered among the different groups of the former Ottoman Empire, that seemingly idyl­lic coexistence was not possible anymore. Either through forced or "negotiated" expulsion, the different non-Muslim millets were forced to flee Turkey.23

Many of their members had cooperated in the grand designs for the cre­ation of new states on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire and therefore the new Turkey could not afford to preserve such a Trojan horse threatening its exist­ence from within. The distrust for minorities and the precarious geopolitical surroundings created a siege mentality among the country's elites. Turkey had to be united, if possible monolithic, in order to resist successfully any claims against its independence. This unification was accomplished between 1919 and 1922, with an insistence that all Muslim peoples of the Anatolian plain form the nucleus of the new Nation, whether they liked it or not, even though many - such as the Kurds - had a clearly distinct cultural tradition:

The original Kemalist doctrine of "civic nationalism" would, indeed, make a differentiation based on ethnicity unnecessary if it had been pursued diligently by the state authorities. [Nevertheless] the state policy of spreading Kemalist norms among the people of Anatolia slowly but constantly deviated from creating a “new Turkish citizen” to assimilating members of different ethnic backgrounds, that is, creating “new Turks.”24

The creation of a Turkish citizenship was thus never pursued thoroughly, largely due to the fact that liberalism was not among the Kemalist principles. In Turkey, cultural pluralism was seen as a menace and is still perceived as such. Creating the myth of a unique Turkish nationality and imposing it by force, the Turkish elites awakened the defensive reflexes of threatened groups. At the same time, the promotion of secularism, as a pillar of modernity, in a Muslim country estranged the devout Muslims who, only a few years before, used to consider the Sultan as the representative of God on Earth.

Even though there was never an official definition, the new Turkish citi­zen was expected to be a secular, sunni Muslim speaking the Turkish lan­guage. Setting such preconditions meant excluding the nationally conscious Kurds, and to a certain extent even the politically aware Muslims, as well as the religiously heterodox Alewites, which altogether constituted about one fourth of the population. "Exclusion is not at all a phenomenon alien to democratic societies, but the exclusion of such a large proportion of a couhtry's population would be bound to create problems."25 Thus, not only was an inclusive citizen­ship - as Dahl had defined it - not achieved, but this attitude towards different groups nurtured reaction and protest and has evolved into two major chal­lenges to the Turkish Republic: the Islamic movement and the Kurds' struggle for human rights.

Individual Freedoms

Countering these threats is a difficult task. Any compromise is seen as imperiling the very essence of the rhetoric that the state has relied on from Independence to this day: the unity and indivisibility of the Turkish state, its territory and people. Because of the elites' siege mentality, solutions based on negotiation and compromise, the essential conditions of democracy, were dis­missed as dangerous. If Atatiirk's revolution had started from above, the Kemalist edifice would still have to be preserved from above through legislation that penalized any dissent from the official version of Turkey's national background. As Kinzer notes, any insult on the memory of Atatiirk to Turkishness and its guarantors (the military), and any broadcasts, parties or individuals promoting the existence of minorities or other cultural differences are strictly forbidden and punishable by law and the Constitution.26

Consequently, the political process and any form of civil society activism is screened through these glasses and dealt with accordingly. As different au­thorities, from the police to state courts, enjoy large leeway in determining what constitutes a threat, repressive measures have become a generalized prac­tice, often in anticipation of subversive action. Amnesty International records numerous imprisonments of writers, politicians, religious leaders and human rights defenders "for exercising their right to freedom of expression, particu­larly when they expressed opinions on the Kurdish question and the role of Islam."27

Even the political system is not immune from this practice. The creation of Islamic parties after the 1971 coup was permitted by the military in order to counterbalance the ascendant Left extremism. But this move.ment gained a momentum of its own, even managing to win the largest number of votes in Parliament in 1995 and, a year later, to have its leader become the first Islam­ist prime minister of the secular Turkish Republic. It was only after yet another coup, a "velvet" one this time, that he was removed from office in 1997, his party banned, reorganized under a new name, and banned again.

In the Kurdish case, the situation is more complicated; Indeed, Turkey can arguably claim that the guerilla warfare of the PKK is the best example of what could happen all over Turkey if differences were allowed to emerge. By stating so (and thus recognizing the failure of their practices), the authorities not only tighten their grip on power, but they also neglect to make a distinction among various groups with different demands. There are other Kurdish parties that do not support the PKK war, but simply ask for an inclusive citizenship, right to education in their language and the freedom to claim their heritage. But recognition of such peculiarities would open a Pandora's box – and this cannot be permitted by the authorities.

Turkey's ranking as only a partly free society, according to Freedom in the World 2000, is not accidental. Both its political and civil liberties· scores are very low (4 and 5 respectively, with 1 being excellent and the worse) due to the restrictions explained above. Even the press shares a blame for this situa­tion, since "it does not act as an independent watchdog or critic" and "publish­ers readily accept guidance from the state about what should and should not be published."28 Civil liberties, therefore, are conditional on.self-censoring. But if this does not contradict democracy, then what does? Political liberties are also rendered problematic, and as undesirable ideologies they are not allowing to evolve into political parties. Nevertheless, the problem of the party system is deeper and more serious than simple barriers to an individual's entry in the political process.

The Political Class in Turkey

As has already been mentioned, from 1924 until 1950, the Republic of Turkey practically had a "state-dominant monoparty authoritarianism,"29 which was deemed indispensable for the pursuit and eventual success of the pro­found reforms of Atatiirk. Even if Atatiirk himself supported multipartism in principle, the few attempts he made toward that direction in the 1920s led to open criticism, for being too sweeping and rapid for the people to absorb. "Convinced that his reforms were too important to be debated and delayed [...] he banned these parties before they could build popular bases"30 and ruled more or less as an authoritarian leader until the end of his life in 1938.

It would be his former companion in arms, Ysmet Ynonii, who succeeded him in the presidency of the country and in the leadership of the CHP (Atatiirk's Republican People's Party), who would make the grand step towards a multi­party system in 1950, as the need to forge stronger bonds with the West be­came even more acute during the Cold War. Turkey experienced a uniquely peaceful transition to a two-party regime,31 which was - quite expectedly perhaps - imposed from above. However, the three coups of 1960, 1971 and 1980 clearly demonstrated that this democratic transition was never completed.

Some of the fundamental weaknesses of the Turkish approach have al­ready been emphasized, but a major one is that the country lacks the appropri­ate political personnel to lead the democratization process. According to Jenkins,

Despite more than 50 years of theoretical multi-party democracy, the way in which the political machinery operates in Turkey reflects the val-qes and atti­tudes of Turkish society, which are authoritarian, patriarchal and conformist rather than democratic and pluralist. [ ... ] Political parties tend to resemble clans rather than institutionalized organizations and form around charismatic individuals rather than ideological conviction or common goals.32

Charismatic leadership is of course not unique in Turkey, and other democra­cies have also had the same politicians dominating political life over a period of decades. A bit more original is Turkey's political vendettas: Even though neces­sity often requires coalition governments in Turkey, these will rarely develop among parties with similar ideological affiliation, but instead among these whose leaders will strike a better deal in sharing power,33 even if it is to the detriment of the long-term course of the country. The cooperation of the "European" Tansu Ciller with Islamist leader Erbakan in 1996-97 is indicative of this situation.

Politicians are not seen as reliable representatives of the people, since the only way to make it to a ballot is by gaining the favor of the party leadership. Merit, sincerity or ideology do not seem to count - and if a party wins a seat in Parliament, emphasis is placed not on the promotion of the party's agenda (if a specific one exists, that is) but on ensuring reelection. "Parliamentarians who [are] skilled in developing benefit networks [have] an advantage over those with a strong background in policy making [as] skill in personal relations is more valued than expertise."84 The development of a democratic culture of dialogue and debate cannot occur under such circumstances, as neither is present within the party structure, or in Parliament.

This undesirability stemmed from another weakness of the Turkish politi­cal system, political party fragmentation. Sunar and Sayari trace its roots to the proportionality of the electoral system and the weak cohesion of the par­ties, which make it easier for deputies to abandon them for better alternatives.35 The multiplicity of parties on the same side of the political spectrum (Center-Left and Center-Right) should have rendered the formation of grand parties possible, had it not been for leaders' feuds as well as the need to em­phasize their differences, in fear of losing votes to smaller parties with a more distinct voice.

As a result, no coherent socioeconomic policies can be drafted and imple­mented to raise the standards of living in Turkey, since each party promotes the interests of its narrowly defined constituency. It was only Ozal (who led the Turkish transition after 1980 as prime minister and, since 1989, as president) who "was able to create a broad coalition of religious conservatives, techno­crats and supporters of the center right."36 It cannot be a coincidence that during the 1980's Turkey averaged 8 percent GDP growth per annum, leading to the emergence of an entrepreneurial class that has given signs of its inten­tion to move towards democratization.37 If only this had occurred consistently, Turkey might not have failed in its multiple transitions, which were all blamed on the corruption of the political class.

Corruption is probably the most profound weakness of the Turkish politi­cal system and the one that lies in the heart of many Turks' dislike for political parties. The Sosurluk incident of 1996, the "coincidental discovery of an illegal formation within the state apparatus when a parliamentarian, a police com­missioner and a fugitive hitman were found to have been sharing a car in­volved in a traffic accident,"38 shook the country as it revealed that corruption had reached almost every aspect of the public life. It is under such conditions that the people turn to the only institution in Turkey that they believe (not allowed to know otherwise) has remained immune to corruption, inefficiency and failure: the military.

The Significance of the Armed Forces

The strong role of the military in society, a characteristic of the Ottoman Empire, was transmitted also to the new state. Under the Sultan, the army symbolized authority; indeed, the glory of the Ottoman Empire was mostly related to its military successes rather than anything else. Nowadays, military service is perceived as the utmost duty towards the Motherland: "to the vast majority of Turks, the military and military values still lie at the heart of any definition of what it means to be Turkish."39

After Ataturk came to power, he took off his military uniform and insisted that if his war companions wished to be involved in politics they had to do so as well. Civilian control of the political process was important to Atat-Urk, but his reforms could not have been achieved based merely on his undeniably enor­mous - prestige as national liberator. It was only with the help of the military that he managed to implement his ideas. "This support [...] was transformed into a guarantee for the legacy of Atatiirk, Kemalism, to live on. And Kemalism could strike roots because the birth of the Turkish Republic was experienced as brought about jointly by the people and the armed forces."40

Even today, the Turkish Armed Forces enjoy an enormous legitimacy be­cause of this very reason, and they see themselves as guardians of the integrity of the Turkish state against any internal or external threat. It is yet another paradox that the military's actions are justified on the grounds of the protec­tion of Kemalist principles, even though westernization, as envisaged by Atatiirk, entailed the subordination of the military to civilians. But as has been consis­tently proven, civilian authority is primary rather than supreme,41 so long as civilian governments function properly, i.e. in accordance with the Kemalist principles. The Armed Forces confine themselves to the management of de­fense and, indirectly, foreign policy.

Currently, the military exercises influence through the National Security Council, an "advisory" board included in the 1980 Constitution (drafted by the military junta under General Kenan Evren) aimed at assisting the government with issues relating to national security.42 Hardly ever has the "recommenda­tion" or "advice" of the NSC not been duly implemented by the civilian govern­ment. Civilians can act without the Armed Forces' consent but almost never over their objection.43

Through the NSC, "the military has actually become part of the constitu­tionally based state executive power without formally being legitimized to such a position."44 As was explained by Dahl, this cannot be the case in a real de­mocracy. The Armed Forces are aware of this abnormality and have restricted their intervention only on national security grounds, even though these in Turkey can be broadly defined, as shown above. Whenever the military inter­vened in the political process (in 1960, 1971 and 1980), it restored civilian rule quite swiftly. Apart from ideological conviction, the reason for this restraint of the military rule is undoubtedly the objection of the Turkish public to such practices.

The fundamental excuse for the continuing domination of the Turkish political process by the military, is then not only the Armed Forces' insistence on their prerogatives, but also the public's acquiescence.45 Both sides agree that the corruption and incompetence of the political class stand at the root of evil but neither is willing to accept its responsibility for it. The Turkish people expect the military to intervene if things get out of hand, and might indeed overlook any excesses if order and stability are to be restored.

But this only demonstrates "the reluctance of the majority of the public to take the responsibility for change upon themselves."46 Unless this happens, the present situation will persist as the fruit of a "shared complicity" of the public and the Armed Forces for the democratic impasse in Turkey. The past decade and the perspective of EU membership have actually demonstrated a changing attitude towards the role of the military, and an increasing desire to catch up with the West. It will therefore be interesting to see whether the political class will grasp this message, and if the military accepts to be ruled rather than to be a ruler.


At the dawn of the 2l8t century, democracy in Turkey is still facing sub­stantial problems that greatly inhibit its development, both in social and eco­nomic terms. While it would be unfair to call its system a dictatorship, the country seems more an "illiberal democracy"47 than anything else. Indeed, free, fair and frequent elections are the norm in Turkey, and its people have often sent to power parties against the will of the military (1983 and 1995). But the attribution of full democratic rights has been reluctant, uncoordinated and eventually counterproductive. A fully operating civil society has not yet been allowed to emerge, and respect for anything associated with politics is lacking.

According to this analysis, reasons for this outcome include a heavy legacy from the Ottoman Empire, which the Republic repudiated and imitated at the same time, the uncompleted social transformation towards westernization as Atatfuk had defined it, and the inability of the political class to assume respon­sibility and respond to social demands. These weaknesses are indeed profound, and it is to the credit of the Turkish people that, despite such constraints, they have made it that far since 1923.

Turkey initiated transition four times but never achieved permanent re­sults, least of which to democratic consolidation. Even if some of Dahl's demo­cratic criteria have been satisfied - such as elections of officials through free and frequent polls and the existence of some alternative sources of information - the country has been hesitant or unable to apply them all. Instead of consoli­dation, the argument goes, further democratization may lead to disintegration. But, as has been noted, a successful democracy cannot be built with such siege mentalities, with threats looming everywhere and diverging attention from the goal of liberalization.

The perspective of EU membership might provide the incentive, the addi­tional stimulus as well as the safeguard for the country and its people to make this step towards democratization. The EU influence will guarantee human rights and at the same time the safety and integrity of the Republic; it may also impose a culture of negotiation and foster a more transparent political process. This is a rare chance that neither the military, the political elites, nor the people can afford to miss, if democracy is really what they want in Turkey. This is undoubtedly their big chance to achieve it. Whether they will seize this op­portunity remains to be seen.

Charalambos Konstantinidis has studied at the Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris, France and Grinnell College, USA, obtaining a BA with Honors in International Relations. He is currently an International Law and Conflict Management scholar at The Johns Hopkins University - SAIS Bologna Center.