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The Process of Democratic Consodilation in Turkey Essay

In general, as far as democracy and democratic consolidation in one country and state come to mean that democracy is the form of political government manner in which all of the eligible citizens claim their rights in an equal manner in order to decide their own lives and government bodies. According to Russell Hanson, “the people sought and gained power and influence in the name of democracy” (68). In this regard, democracy requires the citizens to participate the governing parts of the state, either through elected representatives or through the creation of laws. Hence, it is considered that democracy is the way of government of the people, as well as the representation of the people in the government. Accordingly, democracy gives importance to the fundamental freedom and the fundamental rights of people. In this regard, as Becker and Raveloson claim, “human rights are much more than a mere component of democracy.

They represent sine qua non requirements for the well performing of a democratic system. The development and evolution of human rights are only possible when humans live in a democracy” (4). What is more, according to Becker and Raveloson, in democratic systems, people themselves put the laws which work and function through the three Powers in governments: legislative power, executive power and judiciary power. The separation of these powers makes up the essence of democracy (Becker and Raveloson 5). Also, democracy is based on the rule of law, in which people constitute laws through representatives in parliaments, which determine and make laws. Laws in a state prevent the tyrannical and absolutist government, as well as despotism; rather the laws require the equality of citizens before the laws. In this respect, the consolidation of parliamentary system is the essential body of the democratic government states, which gives way to the separation of powers into three as legislative, executive ad judiciary.

On the other hand, in this respect, when considering the democratic consolidation, it can be stated that the above given aspects of democracy lead to the maturity of a state in terms of democracy. Hence, the transition to democracy and path to the formation of democracy have been considered as the consolidation of democracy, in which the location of human rights, electoral system, parliament, and the separation of powers play an important role. Hence, within the process of the consolidation of democracy, democratic freedom and democratic rights constitute the very basis as human rights. In the light of these ideas, when it comes to the consolidation of democracy in Turkey, Turkey has always been regarded as the “third wave of democracy” by many scholars and political scientists. Accordingly, it should be pointed out that the first attempt to democracy in Turkey dates back to 1950s, in which multiparty system was consoled and located.

Ergun Özbudun claims that in Turkey, parties and party system “have been experiencing a protracted process of institutional decay since the 1970s, with growing fragmentation, ideological polarization, and electoral volatility in party system and declining organizational capacity of, public support for, and identification with individual parties” (73). In this regard, it has been claimed that the party system and the structure of the political parties in Turkey has been changing and going to polarization from single-party rule to multi-party system, as Özbudun states. However one can also claim that the process of democratization can be dated to the early days of the foundation of the Turkish Republic. According to Irına Danilkina, Turkey, as being a developing country, has also been considered as the “forerunner in the transition to the competitive democratic system” (1).

However, as it has been stated by Akgün, “among developing countries, Turkey has been a front runner in the transition to the competitive democratic system. Nevertheless, its political system has also experienced a cyclical pattern of authoritarian regressions and democratic breakdowns. Judging on the basis of key institutions for a democratic regime, such as political parties, it is hard to call Turkish democracy consolidated and stable” (71). When the Turkish Republic was founded by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, there was a manner in the direction of democratization with the establishment of the electoral process in Turkey in 1920s. Furthermore, following 1920s, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk initiated some reforms in order to create a new republican state, which was in the path of modern republicanism and secularism, which marked the beginning of Westernization in Turkey. Hence, it can be stated that the new reforms and westernization project were the initial stages of the consolidation of the process of democratization in Turkey.

In these reforms, people in Turkey gained the rights and freedom to rule themselves, through a Parliament in the form of republicanism. Secondly, the transition to multi-party system was another wave of the democratization process of the modern Turkey, which refers the electoral aspect of democracy. However, such democratic process was interrupted by the successive military coups in 1960, 1971 and 1980, in which military gained power and dissolved the political parties, which was the breakdown of democratization in Turkey. As it has been remarked by Danilkina that “the coups in 1960 and 1980 completely displaced the civilian government and produced the new constitutions to mark discontinuity with the past”; in 1971 there was just the forced replacement of Demirel government by the government of technocrats controlled by the military, but the political parties remained intact contrary to 1960 and 1980.

Most of the time, Turkish politics has been significantly influenced by the military that reflected the society’s general outlook on democracy and directed the process of democratization” (1). On the other hand, thirdly, it can be stated that following 1980 coup, the Özal government’s liberal policies can be regarded as a positive step for the consolidation of democracy in Turkey. And fourthly, the European Union application of Turkey to membership can be regarded as the final step in the process of democratization, in which further democratic measures had to be taken by Turkey in order to be the member of the European Union. Thus, it can be stated that the democratic consolidation in Turkey will end when Turkey fully became the member of the European Union. First of all it can be stated that the process of democratization can be dated to the emergence of the multi-party system in Turkey in 1950s.

In this regard, according to Geyikçi, “the most important achievement of Turkish experience with democracy has been the consolidation of electoral democracy, that is, a legitimate form of government has emerged only through inclusive, fair and competitive elections” (2). This refers to the fact that the process of the consolidation of democracy through the electoral system, in which people’s participation in the government can be easy and enhanced. Accordingly, as Danilkina has asserted, “by the end of the century we see the establishment of a multiparty system in Turkey. Turkey has moved from the political system dominated by one party to the one represented by multiple political actors of the similar influence. This process has not been orderly, but rather painful, where the military played an important role.

It directed rather indirectly the political development of the country towards the objectives laid down by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, and thrice during this process it had to intervene using force to cut down the possibilities of moving away from democratization towards an oppressive regime. Such interventions seemed reasonable since for along time the politics in Turkey had been dominated by few major parties, which at some point were becoming dictatorial in character. Today, since many parties are represented in the National Assembly and multiparty system is more or less established, it is much less probable that there will be a need for a such intervention” (1). Thus, it can be stated that the military interventions in the party system and government are considered as the weakening of democracy, since the civil authority was replace by the military authority. However, in the years, 1960s and 1980s, the political parties tended to be dictatorial and some of which led to Islamist and Leftist circles to be in power. Hence, it can be stated that the rise of Islam has been seen as democratic process.

İlkay Sunar and Sabri Sayari in their article “Democracy in Turkey: Problems and Prospects” give the history of consolidation of democracy in Turkey beginning with the modernization of Turkey to the present time. As they reveal that the military coups were obstacles on the consolidation of full democracy. As they state that “when Turkey’s parliamentary democracy was not terminated by a military coup in September 1980, the military intervention nor the political crisis that preceded it was new”. They point out that the Turkish democracy is instable because from the single-party system to a competitive multiparty system the Turkish politics was always marked as instable. The instability of the Turkish democracy and politics also strengthened by three military coups, in which the military involved in politics in 1960-61, 1971-73 and 1980-83. During these years the military ruled the state.

Moreover they state that in Turkey a strong centralist state and an elite tradition, inherited from the Ottoman Empire and dominated heavily by a bureaucratic structure and culture, have exercised strong effects on the development and consolidation of democratic politics. 1960’s and 1971 was known as the military coup and intervention in Turkey, in which military asserted its power on political parties since they defend the anti-Kemalist and anti-secularist tendencies. In this respect it can be stated that both the leftist and rightist political parties were accused of being anti-secularist and Kemalist ideology in their party programs. For example, 1960 coup was against the rising nationalist movement, initiated by Alparslan Turkeş, who founded an ultra-nationalist Nationalist Action Party. The military coup in that sense is to put country back on the road to democracy and development and then hand the administration of the country back to an elected civilian government.

Moreover, the military regime and ideology was against the rise of pro-Islamic policies and discourses, and therefore took action against the nationalist, fascist and religious Islamic politics of the parties in 1960s and 1970s. Apart from CHP, most of the political parties in the 1960s and 1970s were against secularism, Atatürk nationalism and Kemalism in general. Therefore both the military interventions and coups were taken against these dangerous ideologies by the Turkish Army. When 12 September 1980 happened, because of the military intention to the Turkish politics, the political parties were closed one by one. And all of the party leaders were sent to trial and prison. The first party that was opened following the military intervention in 1980 was the Motherland Party (ANAP). Özal won the elections made in 1983, who also followed right-liberal and Islamic route in the party politics.

Then, after the military intervention, The National Salvation Party later left its place to the Welfare Party (RP), which was also founded by Necmettin Erbakan, who is one of the most radical Islamic politicians. From 1987 to 1999, there was a rise in the political Islam and these years were the rise of Welfare Party, in which the party became on the government. As Küçükcan states that the rise of Welfare party means the rise of political Islam in Turkey. As he remarks “the general elections on December 24, 1995, were a turning point in Turkey’s modern political history. The elections resulted in the reconfiguration of religion and politics in the public sphere. The political developments soon after the elections,117 as well as the efforts of the WP to form a government, preoccupied the Turkish citizens regardless of their political preference or their degree of religiosity. The victory by the WP marked the first time since the foundation of the Turkish Republic that an Islamist party had claimed a majority.

The rise of the WP meant that the political rhetoric of an Islamic-oriented party received large popular support” (494). When the Welfare party was banned by the Constitutional Court in 1998 in the middle of Secularist and Islamist debate in Turkey. After the dissolution of the Welfare Party, a new Islamist party, Virtue Party (FP) was founded. However, unlike the Welfare Party, the Virtue Party remained out of government in 1999 general elections. Following the close of the Welfare Party by the Constitutional Court again, SP was founded but the former Virtue Party was divided into two. The other side of the party members, in the leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan founded the AKP Justice and Development Party in 2002. And the 2002 elections was resulted in the victory of the AKP. However, the AKP belonged to the right wing but adopted again moderate Islamist politics. However, unlike the former Islamist political parties, the AKP adopted pro-democratic and pro-liberal politics, and regarded itself as moderate Islam.

Apart from the multi-party system, Turkey’s candidacy to the European Union can be considered as the third aspect of the consolidation of democracy in Turkey. In this regard, when Turkey was accepted as the candidate for the membership of the EU, some democratic steps were asked for to be implemented by the EU. In this regard, it can be claimed that the outcome of the process of EU integration for Turkey are influenced by the democratization, freedom, economic, military, As Ioannis Grigoriadis has asserted that “the prospect of Turkey’s EU membership already has been a catalyst toward the realization of an ambitious—albeit incomplete—domestic reform program, which brought Turkey much closer to the model of consolidated liberal democracy.

On the EU side, the debate on Turkey’s membership has acted as a proxy for a larger and overdue debate on the future shape of the European Union” (“Turkey’s Accession to the European Union”, 147). The factors that determine the possible accession of Turkey to the EU are the problems in democracy, including the minorities, the rise of the political Islam, and the rise of the power of military, and economy. In the first key issue that influences Turkey’s accession to the EU is the democracy in Turkey. To conclude, one can state that the new reforms and westernization project were the initial stages of the consolidation of the process of democratization in Turkey. In these reforms, people in Turkey gained the rights and freedom to rule themselves, through a Parliament in the form of republicanism.

Secondly, the transition to multi-party system was another wave of the democratization process of the modern Turkey, which refers the electoral aspect of democracy. However, such democratic process was interrupted by the successive military coups in 1960, 1971 and 1980, in which military gained power and dissolved the political parties, which was the breakdown of democratization in Turkey. On the other hand, thirdly, it can be stated that following 1980 coup, the Özal government’s liberal policies can be regarded as a positive step for the consolidation of democracy in Turkey. And fourthly, the European Union application of Turkey to membership can be regarded as the final step in the process of democratization, in which further democratic measures had to be taken by Turkey in order to be the member of the European Union.

Works Cited
Akgün, B. “Aspects of Party System Development in Turkey”. Turkish Studies, Volume 2, Number 1, 1 2001 , pp. 71-92. Becker, Paula, and Raveloson, Jean-Aime. “What is Democracy?”, Septembr 2008, Retrieved in 03 November 2012, from http://library.fes.de/pdf-files/bueros/madagaskar/05860.pdf Danilkina, Irına. “TURKEY: The Party System from 1963 to 2000”. Retrieved in 02 November 2012, from http://janda.org/ICPP/ICPP2000/Countries/7-MiddleEastNorthAfrica/78-Turkey/Turkey63-00.htm Geyikçi, Şebnem. “The Impact of Parties and Party Systems on Democratic Consolidation: The Case of Turkey”. http://www2.lse.ac.uk/europeanInstitute/research/ContemporaryTurkishStudies/PaperSYG20111.pdf Grigoriadis, Ioannis. “Turkey’s Accession to the European Union: Debating the Most Difficult Enlargement Ever”, SAIS Review of International Affairs, Vol. 26, No. 1, Winter-Spring, 2006. Pp. 147-160. Hanson, Russell. “Democracy”. Political Innovation and Conceptual Change”. Ed. Terence Ball et al. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1989. Ilkay Sunar and Sabri Sayari, “Democracy in Turkey”. Transitions from Authoritarian Rule: Tentative Conclusions About Uncertain Democracies, ed. Guillermo O’Donnell and Philippe C. Schmitter. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986. Özbudun, Ergun. Contemporary Turkish Politics: Challenges to Democratic Consolidation. London, Lynne, 2000.


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