Panel 3d. The AKP and Authoritarianism in Turkey

Chair: Sinan Ciddi, Georgetown University & Institute of Turkish Studies

Re-considering political change and democratisation in the context of institutional persistence
Ceren Lord, London School of Economics

This paper examines the persistence of authoritarian structures, using Turkey as a case study, despite political change and the ways in which they can constrain democratic. The ascent to power in 2002 of the Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi, AKP), a political party with Islamist roots was generally regarded as a turning point in Turkish history and as having wider implications in terms of the emergence of a model of ‘Muslim democracy’ for the Middle East. The argument was that this had reflected democratisation of the polity, signifying and eventually leading to a break with a system of authoritarian tutelary rule, with the military acting as a key veto player over the political system. These analyses of political change were largely based on modernisation and transition theories of democratisation. Consequently, it was contended that a transition to democracy would result owing to i)a move away from the previous authoritarian regime facilitated by the elite that was empowered by wider social dissatisfaction with status quo; ii) bourgeoisification, which would serve to moderate certain political actors such as Islamists. However, the limitations of these approaches have been highlighted in the subsequent turn towards authoritarianism under the AKP. In contrast to the prevailing approaches, this paper seeks to situate the AKP experience by drawing on i)a historical institutionalist theoretical framework to trace persistence of authoritarian institutions despite political change; ii)the theoretical insights on hybrid regimes which frame political change and continuity in terms of political cycles, rather than structural breaks.

The Political Appeal of Justice and Development Party: From “High-right” to “Low”.
Toygar Sinan Baykan, University of Sussex

There is a widespread tendency in the literature to underline the conservative-religious content in the political appeal of the Justice and Development Party (JDP). In this paper I illustrate how the JDP elite and the pro-JDP media have located the party and its leadership in the political space of Turkey. In order to do this, I briefly discuss the relevance of left-right, centre-periphery and high-low divisions. I argue that the high-low division, as a “manifestation in politics of social and cultural inequality” proposed by Pierre Ostiguy, provides the most appropriate lens through which to see the full nature of the JDP’s political appeal. I argue that, contrary to widespread assumptions, the political appeal of the JDP exploits neither the left-right cleavage nor the secular-religious cleavage. Instead, they have constructed a peripheral identity for the party and located it at the low end of the high-low division. Religiosity has indeed a place in the JDP’s political appeal, as emphasized by many commentators. Yet, as evidence from the presidential elections in 2014 and from the JDP’s communication style illustrates, the role of religious symbols and rhetoric is subordinated to a wider low appeal of the party. In turn, its low appeal has broadened the JDP’s targeted constituency and extended the party decisively beyond a narrow ideological-Islamist electoral base. It has also, thanks to the flexible framework provided by the low appeal, helped the party elite to consolidate its elite alliance.

Turkey’s Political Impasse: the Architecture of Aurthoritarian Rule
Sinan Ciddi, Georgetown University & Institute of Turkish Studies

Turkey’s political history during the multiparty period (1950>) is riddled with instability, praetorian and authoritarian rule. Under the incumbency of the Justice and Development Party (AKP),the country’s initial turn to consolidating and internalizing liberal democratic norms has, since 2013, taken a sharp dive. Tayyip Erdogan and the AKP took office in 2003 based on a unique premise that democracy and Islam were compatible, sustainable and achievable. Indeed Erdogan’s Turkey was lauded as a ‘model’ regime for many post-Arab Spring countries transitioning from authoritarian rule to take example of. Increased opposition towards both the style and content of Erdogan’s continued rule has resulted in the emergence of an authoritarian system of rule that has been described by some scholars as an ‘elected dictatorship’. Although Turkey has not been plagued by severe economic instability since the early 2000’s, there seems to be no doubt that the country is in the midst of an ever-escalating political crisis. Institutional arrangements to manage, accommodate and ameliorate political conflict- from political parties to the judicial system appear to be faltering. What are the roots Turkish political conduct and what typology does Turkey’s democratic credentials fit into?

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