April 17, 2017
Turkey’s experience with democracy has witnessed many ups and downs. Sometimes, it was democratically elected governments overstepping their powers, at other times it was the failure of politicians to find common ground leading to military coups or interventions. Lastly, it was a coup attempt by an insidious organization which had infiltrated state institutions including the military. In all these cases, the failure of our democracy was attributed to institutions, persons or both.
This time it was different. This was not just another election. This time, the electorate was asked to make a fundamental decision on Turkey’s future, its internal peace and its place in the world. The choice was between parliamentary democracy and a presidential system alla turca. And after a hugely unfair campaign, they went for the latter by an extremely narrow margin reflecting Turkey’s polarization and giving the ruling Justice and Development Party (JDP) only a Pyrrhic victory.
Whether the contested referendum result marks the end of Turkey’s democracy remains to be seen. The record of recent years hardly inspires optimism. But the more immediate challenge is Turkey’s corroding polarization. The problem is, the only way to heal the disease is a determined return to the democratic path and that unfortunately does not seem to be in the cards. Moreover, the country is faced with serious internal security problems. The economy is at a critical point. Foreign relations are in shatters. There is no end in sight to regional turmoil. These challeges necessitate a spirit of unity and non-ideological approaches prioritizing Turkey’s interests. Unless the JDP leadership puts behind the “even a single vote majority gives us the power to govern as we deem right” mentality and starts consensus building, tougher days will be in store for Turkey.