How can you tell when a country is no longer a democracy? Is it when checks and balances are too eroded to prevent abuses of power? When minority rights and individual liberties have been curtailed? Is it when the separation of powers breaks down and power becomes concentrated in the executive? When the media has been successfully co-opted or intimidated into acquiescence? Or when the transfer of power to an opposition party becomes unthinkable?
‘Strong men’ are back in the driving seat; from Russia, to Venezuela, to Malaysia, the Philippines, Egypt, and now Turkey. In many cases, the dear leaders genuinely command majority support (occasionally overwhelmingly so). Of course, it’s difficult to get bad press when critics end up dead or in jail.
In Turkey, those critics believe the march towards authoritarianism has taken another step forward. On 16 April, Turkish voters approved a package of constitutional reforms in a referendum, centralising power in the office of the president. The amendments will give President Erdoğan the power to appoint and dismiss government ministers, pick judges, enact legislation by decree, and draft state budgets. Potentially, they could allow him to stay in power until 2029.
Supporters counter that the Turkish parliament will still have the power to veto presidential decrees and budgets. They argue that the previous constitutional arrangement was unwieldy, and cite the July 2016 coup attempt and frequent terrorist attacks by both the PKK and the so-called Islamic State as proof that Turkey needs a strong government.
Yet how strong is too strong? More than 170 newspapers, magazines, radio and TV stations have been closed down by the government since the coup attempt, and 145 journalists have been imprisoned. Tens of thousands of civil servants, academics, and members of the police, military, and judiciary have been dismissed from their jobs. Dozens of opposition MPs have been jailed.
Is Turkey still a democracy? How can you tell when a political system is no longer democratic? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!