Democracy is a beautiful not self explanatory concept. Even between what we consider related democracies, there are big differences in the way they organize their democracies.
In the World we have “democracies” organized in a single party, communist style, and China as main example. “Democracies” organized around two single parties: in the United Stated this is enough to consider themselves the paradigm of democracy. Or multiple party “democracies”, European style. Then come those authoritarian regimes where we can not talk of democracy, not even between quotation marks but, without any doubt, every dictator will use the “democracy” word to explain himself. As it is a powerful idea to sell, no matter if it is empty. As no democracy guarantees, with few or many parties, the whole population will be fairly represented. Not just in the parliament, but even in the ballots.
Turkey can be considered a democracy since 1924, when the constitution which would allow its settlement was approved. But, due to the preeminence of Kemalism, a multi party system would not be created until 1946. Since then, 70 years, Turkey is considered as a democracy by any other western democracy, even with some gaps. As they were the coup d’état of 1960, 1971 and 1980. Turkish Army would preserve the right to interfere with democracy while essential Kemalist values were in jeopardy. Namely to protect Turkish identity of State and its secularism. Whatsoever had as a result the discrimination of not Turkish identities, Kurdish the main one, and the exclusion of religious political movements.
As much as it hurts to a secular progressist, as Turkish parliament was formed then, we could say the interests of many were not represented. Starting by the Kurds, of course, but also the most traditional and religious side of society.
¿What Erdoğan did? Erdoğan comes from Milli Selamet Partisi (National Salvation Party) and other Islamic political parties that played a role periodically in Turkish politics. They even ruled but, eventually, were always banned for threatening the secular nature of State. In 1994 Erdoğan became Istanbul mayor showing himself, for 4 years, able to rule a management focused leadership to solve some of the most important issues of the city. The shortage of water, contamination and transport problems. Focussing on management and stepping aside from ideology, the mayor won reputation to became the visible head of Refah Partisi (Wealthfare Party) and lead the new project of Turkish political Islam. However this party would be declared illegal in 1998 and Erdoğan sent to prison for 4 months due to incitement to violence charges in one of his speeches.
The political success of Islamic parties before being banned can not be questioned. Although they were not hegemonic, in 1995 reached the 21% of votes. What Erdoğan learned from his experience, and his predecessors did not, was that tempering his religious speech and focussing on public management, as he did with Istanbul town hall, they could not only avoid illegalization, but also appeal to many more voters. With this idea founded AKP in 2001, Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi (Justice and Development Party), dodging illegalization in Constitutional Court by 1 vote and winning by a wide majority every election since then.
Legalizing Erdoğan’s party, undoubtedly, Turkey earned democratic quality widening the spectrum of political forces accordingly with society interests. Democracy quality was even more reassured when HDP, Halklarin Demokratik Partisi (Peoples Democratic Party), participated in 2015 elections representing Kurdish interests. Until then only represented by independent candidates.
However, Turkish political system has other deficiencies, like the minimum of 10% of national votes to enter the parliament. That eases majority formation and hardens the foundation and development of minor parties. AKP, internationally acclaimed as moderate Islamism, was linked with an organization, Opus Dei alike in catholic countries, known as Cemaat(Community) or Hizmet(The service). Blurring their religious ideology with nationalism and propaganda proceeded to the progressive Islamisation of the country. With the support of a wide sector of population they saw themselves able to reach the enough majority to undertake constitutional reforms what, probably, would impoverish country’s democratic quality.
For 14 years AKP became the synonym of power. And its loose political definition attracts a big number of individuals willing to run a politic career. Until AKP rule, women were forbidden to wear scarves inside universities. Now there are politicians who make their wives to wear it, even if they never wore it, to advance in their careers.
Big amount of AKP success until 2015 was based on the east of the country, always more traditional. Extraordinary beneficiary of electoral law, the absence of Kurdish parties, empowered AKP in the regions predominantly populated by them. The system only allowed Kurds as independents to gain representation. But an independent only could get one seat in the parliament, even receiving votes to get more. As a result, in the Kurdish populated regions, although Kurdish representatives received majority of votes, AKP was the party that sent more parliamentarians, being the only party whose speech worked in the region.
HDP irruption in June 2015 elections endangered many of southeast AKP parliamentarian seats. Which lead to ungovernability and repetition of elections five months later. Kurdish political side made the bet of reaching the 10% minimum of votes. All in. As the difference between 9,9% and 10% of votes meant to go from no representation to 60 seats in parliament. They got 13,2% and 80 seats.
AKP, then, forgot its “friendly” position about Kurdish issue, embracing a more ultra-nationalistic one. Why? After losing many chances to earn a big amount of representatives in country’s southeast, breaking peace negotiations and resurrect PKK activity, Partiya Karkerên Kurdistanê (Kurdistan Workers Party) was the perfect electoral strategy. PKK’s violence would have, and in fact had, 2 consequences: Delegitimize HDP role as peaceful head of Kurdish interests and push the Turkish voter towards institutional nationalistic vote.
With this manoeuver Erdoğan, at the same time, made an approach to one of his main opponent, the army. Allowing the army to run its law in the southeast, establish curfews in many cities and pushing to the limit of civil war. As a result, moreover, usurping its role, AKP also stole many voters from ultra-nationalist party.
Explaining this political strategy to keep the power is useful to understand what it is the AKP and why it is a danger now for country’s democracy. Its ulterior ideology is Islamic, it is its essence and intention. Its program in the long term was and is to spread Islam doctrine. The rest of its political positions proved to be subordinated to political Islam. If not, mutate to reach as much popular support as possible. Reaching absolute majority almost permanently. Its, theoretically, traditional and conservative right policies tempted centre and centre-left politicians. And its approach to Turkish ultra-nationalism allow the latter to get closer to power and the AKP to widen its electoral base and power spectrum.
If the AKP keeps amassing power and political resources, with or without constitutional reform, it will be the end of secular democracy in Turkey. Or the start of one of those “democracies” of one single party, where this party imposes its ideology to the whole country. In AKP case Islam. Under it there are many possible policies and ideologies in AKP. But critic voices with party’s policies are not allowed. That is why censorship and prosecution are so common now with discordant voices, even with not religious issues. Those voices are dangerous, not because their claims, but because discredit the force balance that sets Erdoğan party as only guarantor of the interests of Turkish people. Voices that may prevent the crack down of Kemalist essence to settle an Islamic republic, even if still there will be portraits of Atatürk in every wall.
What Turkey needs now is a strong counterpart, to change the balance of power and confront AKP. Relegating Islamist to their influence circle, releasing the rest of political ideologies they hoarded. To give back to the democratic game the leadership of politics and to not forget that important group of Turkey’s population (half) that AKP can not reach and whose lifestyle is endangered by country’s islamisation.