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  • Turkey's Democratic Erosion:On Backsliding and the Constitution
  • Bertil Emrah Oder (bio)


In March of 2021, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan introduced an action plan on human rights in Turkey. His opening speech included a quote from Malcolm X: "I am for truth, no matter who tells it. I am for justice, no matter who it is for or against" (Erdoğan 2021). Emphasizing the rule of law and human rights throughout his speech, he reiterated his goal of drafting and ratifying a new constitution to mark the Republic's centenary in 2023.

The constitutional call coincided with developments perpetuating Turkey's constitutional backsliding, including its move to ban the third largest political party, the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), and its withdrawal from the Council of Europe's Istanbul Convention on the prevention of violence against women and domestic violence (Official Gazette 2021). As of April 5, 2021, 92 journalists were under arrest, giving Turkey the highest score in terms of threats to journalists in the Council of Europe countries (Council of Europe,, accessed April 8, 2021). Canan Kaftancıoğlu, one of the leading politicians of the main opposition CHP (the Republican People's Party) in Istanbul, was charged with a series of crimes because of her tweets between 2012 and 2017. Her charges include defamation, inciting public hatred and violence, and insulting the president. The parliamentary immunity of a deputy of the pro-Kurdish opposition HDP, Ömer Gergerlioğlu, was removed [End Page 473] (CoE Parliamentary Assembly 2021), and he was convicted of dissemination of terrorist propaganda by sharing on social media news that had been published by a media outlet. Yet, despite the government's continued and increased actions to undermine democracy in the country, its representatives assert that Turkey needs a new and civilian constitution for the people. Criticizing the constitution-making under military interventions in Turkey, Erdoğan stated, "The new constitution's text, which will emerge with the widest possible consensus, will be submitted for the nation's approval" (Hürriyet 2021a).

Shortly after Erdoğan's announcement of the action plan on human rights and his call for a new constitution, the Democracy Report 2021 of the V-Dem Institute placed Turkey on a list of the top 10 autocratic countries and in third place for democratic decline, behind Poland and Hungary, based on recent scores in the Liberal Democracy Index and Electoral Democracy Index (Alizada et. al. 2021, 11, 19). The country had moved towards the consolidation of liberal democracy after 2001 by using deliberative constitutionalism and Europeanization policies in line with the EU accession process. However, since 2014, Turkey has found itself in the bottom 20 percent in the global rankings on the Liberal Democracy Index and has lost its status as an electoral democracy. At present, Turkey's regime type falls within an intermediate category of competitive nondemocracy, i.e., an electoral autocracy (Levitsky and Way 2010, 14–16), as the opposition can still contest governmental issues or rulings using democratic institutions (Alizada et. al. 2021, 19). Under the current circumstances, it is a nondemocracy with multiparty elections, wherein electoral integrity has been secured, mainly by vigilant civic oversight, as observed in Istanbul's mayoral rerun election in 2019. Ekrem İmamoğlu, the main opposition's candidate, won the election in a landslide victory, which was a heavy loss for Erdoğan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) after its 25-year rule in Turkey's largest city.

Turkey's current democratic erosion towards autocracy occurred under the AKP's nearly two-decades-long governmental rule. In contrast with the rapid and complete collapse of democracy by military [End Page 474] interventions in 1960 and 1980, this represents a slow degradation. It demonstrates serious backsliding in multiple areas, including curbs on freedom of expression, the shrinkage of the civic space, a dysfunctional and subservient judiciary, and systemic cronyism. Ironically, the AKP government, led by Erdoğan from 2003 to 2010, oversaw a wave of democratization in Turkey. The AKP came to power by receiving 34.8 percent of the vote in 2002. Prior to the 2002 election, the consensual...


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