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Sunday, February 25, 2024

Turkey to celebrate 100 years of democracy

Turkey’s one hundred years as a Republic has seen the country go through difficult economic and political phases; including military coups, short unstable coalition governments, and ultimately the rise of an Islamist party to power.

The Republic of Turkey was founded on October 29, 1923, when the assembly declared it a republic and elected Mustafa Kemal as the first president. It marked the end of the Caliphate, and a formal republican constitution was adopted in 1924. The year 2023 will mark 100 years of democracy in the country. However, the country has experienced significant transitions in its evolution as a Republic in the past 100 years, including military coups, short unstable coalition governments, and ultimately the rise of an Islamist party to power in 2002. The political transformation from a single-party government to a multi-party government post-Second World War has disturbed democracy in the country.

Moreover, under the leadership of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey started to lean toward the East as it associated itself more with Islamic values and has given the impression of missing its traditional leadership role under the Caliphate. It has strengthened relations with Arab countries where it has built its overseas military involvement, primarily in Somalia and Qatar. The ruling Party of Justice and Development (AKP) ‘s religious inclination initially helped it become stronger and more popular among the people in the last decade. The party built and sold the narrative of defending the nation’s authentic values and state’s territorial integrity, through which it gained increasing support for the ruling elites under the leadership of Erdogan.

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However, these developments were not uniformly supported by the country’s population. Two decades from now, many perceive Erdogan and his party as increasingly authoritarian and undermining democracy in the country. Furthermore, Erdogan’s rivalry with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) has largely affected the ethnic sentiments of the Kurdish population in the country. Similarly, many domestic policy analysts contend that Erdogan’s policy towards the west has largely isolated the country and a new parliamentary regime would revitalize and democratize Turkey’s EU prospects. A possible return to the west and EU reform agenda may accelerate relations through coordination in trade, energy, foreign policy, and migration policies.

General elections will be held in June this year, in which the people will choose their next president. There are mixed views on whether Erdogan would retain power. The opposition aims to bring back a parliamentary system and limit the president’s powers in the country, which were significantly increased after Erdogan made significant changes to the constitution in 2018. The opposition asserts that President Erdogan cannot run for a third consecutive term in office as it is against the Turkish constitution. It was assumed that President Erdogan would call early elections to save his seat, but the officials confirmed that elections would take place as planned in June 2023.

The only way to bring the opposition into power is to agree on a joint presidential candidate from the “Table of Six” parties instead of nominating candidates from each party. However, due to their internal disagreements, this seems to be a real challenge for the opposition. The country has had bad experiences with broad coalitions in the past, which previously brought the state on the verge of economic crisis and political uncertainty.

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However, the local elections of 2019 provided a beacon of hope for those wanting a power transition as the opposition candidate won against the AKP candidates in Istanbul and Ankara. It shows that the country still has functioning democratic institutions and allows the opposition to present itself as a credible and powerful alternative to the current government.