In the ten years since his Justice and Development Party (AKP) scored an overwhelming victory in parliamentary elections, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (above), has pushed through policies that have transformed the country’s political institutions – for good and ill, write Arch Puddington and Zselyke Csaky.
The AKP’s triumph represented much more than a normal rotation of power between one traditional party and another. As a party—or, perhaps more accurately, a movement—with roots in moderate Islamism, the AKP stood poles apart from the secularist parties that had dominated Turkish politics for much of the previous century.
Erdogan’s policies have substantially transformed many of the country’s political institutions. Most significantly, he has reduced the military, long regarded as the ultimate source of political power and guarantor of Turkish sovereignty, to a position subservient to civilian authorities. Under the AKP, elections have become more competitive and fair, prison conditions improved, and, for a while at least, rights for Kurds were enhanced.
But there is a darker side to the AKP record. The reformist bent of Erdogan’s early years in office has been replaced by policies that are meant to entrench AKP power. The government has launched mass prosecutions against military officers, journalists, academics, and political figures accused of involvement in a deep-state conspiracy, called Ergenekon, that allegedly sought to bring down the government. AKP loyalists have increasingly come to dominate the judiciary. Erdogan has intimidated the media through legal cases brought against outlets that supported the opposition. Indeed, the highly respected Committee to Protect Journalists has marked the AKP’s 10th anniversary in power with a scathing report on the state of Turkish press freedom.
Perhaps most worrisome is a sense that despite its own history as a target of repressive efforts, the AKP is now embracing methods employed with considerable effectiveness by outright authoritarian regimes.
This extract is taken from a longer post by Arch Puddington, Vice President for Research at Freedom House, and guest blogger Zselyke Csaky. The post also includes a chronology that highlights Turkey’s record of adherence to democracy and human rights norms during the period of AKP dominance, drawn from reports published in Freedom in the World, Freedom House’s annual survey of political rights and civil liberties.