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The South Atlantic Quarterly 102.2/3 (2003) 293-308

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The AKP and Normalizing Democracy in Turkey

Ahmet Insel

The parliament that emerged from the general elections on November 3, 2002, in Turkey has created an unexpected possibility of exit from the authoritarian regime established after the military coup of September 12, 1980. 1 The 1982 Constitution, to which I will refer as the September 12 regime, aimed to impose on the society an authoritarian and conservative statist conception of politics. The September 12 regime made the concept of the state sacred. It placed a radical statism at the center of the principle of republicanism, and it took care to have this principle hang over politics like Demokles's sword. It systematized the authoritarianism that was one of the innate characteristics of the Turkish Republic, and institutionalized the transfer of the administrative center of this authoritarianism from the civil to the military bureaucracy, 2 to achieve a politically and socially stable but economically dynamic new regime.

Thanks to the intensification of the internal contradictions of the September 12 regime, the results of the November 3 elections created the possibility of leaving this conservative statist-authoritarian regime behind under the [End Page 293] leadership of a conservative-democratic political/social movement. This development signals a possibility of political transformation that is important in the context of Turkey's recent history. To assess the potential significance of this event, it will be useful to consider the 1982 Constitution, which inhibited the political development of Turkish society for twenty years, and the structure determining the qualities of the institutions and traditions deriving from that Constitution.

The Characteristics of the September 12 Regime

The architects of the September 12 regime desired to construct a political sphere with the state at its center. This project reflected a political conception that perceived the state as the center and the society as the periphery. The different wings of politics, its left and its right, were to be determined according to this center. With this aim in view, it was stipulated that political parties would conform to a single type in their establishment and operation, that organic ties between political parties and other social organizations would be prevented by means of a series of prohibitions, and that the clustering of votes around a few central parties would be made obligatory by means of the 10 percent threshold for representation in the parliament. To this was added the opportunity for military tutelage institutionalized through the strengthening of the political powers of the National Security Council (MGK, or Milli Güvenlik Kurulu). Because the 1982 Constitution was legitimized under the shadow of military intervention and by means of a referendum during which oppositional propaganda was prohibited, it was not difficult to put in place this new regime of military tutelage that went beyond the traditional military-politics relationship in the Turkish Republic.

The architects of the regime hoped that political actors adapted to the new conditions would emerge in the sphere vacated through political prohibitions. They therefore banned the prominent political figures of the "old regime" from politics. In this way, the tradition of "ban from politics" due to political activities was established—a tradition whose effects continue to this day. After a brief period of liberalization between 1983 and 1985, the state-centered structure was consolidated by the conservatives by the institution of a state-of-emergency environment, in response to the rapidly escalating confrontations with the PKK (the illegal Kurdish Labor Party and [End Page 294] its armed forces). In this way, the authoritarian conception of politics that constituted the heart of the third republican regime was prevented from weakening. The political parties that were obliged to conduct their activities in an extremely limited sphere stiffened even further the authoritarian reflexes that already existed in the Turkish political tradition because they had to adopt these authoritarian conceptions in order to remain legitimate.

The September 12 regime initiated a political period during which the greatest number of parties were closed down in Turkish history. Not only were the small...


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pp. 293-308
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