This is a sloppy sort of reporting/editorializing about trends taking place in Turkey during Erdoğan’s third term so far. It captures the general essence of the fact that there are some disturbing actions the government is taking, particularly in the use of the court system to go after potential political foes and critics, but there are some things in here that made me roll my eyes on both sides of the spectrum. First the line, “Along with a gathering air of authoritarianism, many detect the first whiff of hubris.” Really, FT? The “first whiff of hubris” from Uncle Tayyip is just now being detected? Erdoğan has been wildly successful on many fronts, and when all is said and done it’s tough to argue that he has up until now been anything but a net positive for Turkey, but I think the first whiff of hubris has been in the rearview mirror for a decade.
The real problem in this piece though is the impression given that Turkey was a problem-free democracy before the AKP came to power. The authors use the term “managed democracy” to describe decades of Kemalist-military rule, but this is rather generous. Turkey had some characteristics of a democracy and some characteristics of an autocracy, but the main difference between then and now is that the government’s priorities are different. The old establishment was most concerned with maintaing enforced secularism, whereas the new establishment has other things in mind. Turkey was certainly not a perfect constitutional democracy before 2002 – in fact, many of the thornier issues that Turkey is dealing with today are a direct result of the 1982 constitution. The article notes that Erdoğan’s moves to assert control over the military have “removed a check on executive power, however undemocratic,” but that last clause should not be glossed over as an afterthought. There is a tendency among Western observers to equate secularism with democracy, but the presence of the first does not guarantee the presence of the second. It’s difficult to take an argument seriously that asserts Erdoğan is destroying a heretofore democratic Turkey and that there has been a slide toward authoritarianism when you have a sense of where Turkey was before. I agree that Erdoğan and the AKP are in the midst of taking a series of worrying moves, and that Turkey in many ways is indeed becoming less democratic, but let’s not be blind to the fact that in other ways, the AKP has improved the quality of Turkish democracy. Turkey may yet end up more authoritarian than it was five years ago, but that will only return it to the status quo ante that existed before the AKP was even formed.