Key Challenges

Polarization of society used to secure power
Turkey’s main problems are political and social. Political stability versus political competition and participation, freedom of religion versus freedom from religion, majority-minority cleavages versus an integrated state and society – each issue presents a trade-off with political, social and international repercussions. The polarization of society has been a key strategy used by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) to secure and hold on to power. Legal uncertainty, distrust in the judiciary, the deterioration of fundamental rights and freedoms, and inefficiency in governmental sectors have increased in the aftermath of the averted military coup of 15 July 2016.
Opposition increasingly suppressed
Suppression of opposition has intensified under the subsequent state of emergency, which lasted until July 2018. The parliament has not been willing to reduce the 10% electoral threshold. Moreover, gerrymandering, single-member district plurality and narrow electoral district boundaries have been used by the AKP to reinforce the party’s parliamentary majority, which was secured in the June 2018 general elections through an alliance that President Erdoğan and the AKP agreed with the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).
Effect of presidential system uncertain
The new presidential system, introduced in the wake of the April 2017 referendum and the 2018 general elections, is an attempt to promote efficiency and coordination in governmental processes, especially in decision-making and implementation, through the use of government offices, councils and ministries. However, such centralization and unification of decision-making in the hands of the president raises doubts about the sustainability of interministerial coordination.
Persistent civil-rights shortcomings
Civil rights shortcomings persist. The incumbent AKP government should expand minority rights for Kurds, Alevis, Christians and other minorities to increase the visibility of minority groups within society and foster minority groups’ identification with the state. This would promote intra-societal peace and a pluralist, integrated society. The government should enhance the powers of local and regional authorities, and introduce stronger mechanisms for democratic participation and political subsidiarity. In addition, the 10% electoral threshold should be reduced to increase smaller parties’ participation in national decision-making.
Authoritarian drift a serious concern
At the same time, the AKP should seriously consider domestic and international concerns about increasing authoritarianism and exclusivist conservatism, and declining pluralism and liberalism within society. The government should contribute to the peaceful inclusion of all social groups, while continuing to tackle extremism and terrorism. The AKP’s monopoly on government, and the authoritarian stance of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan against groups and media critical of his government is a concern for foreign observers, but even more so for Turkish citizens.
Demographic shifts pose growing problem
During the review period, Turkey’s gradual demographic shifts and the country’s economic slowdown have increasingly posed a problem. While a young and well-educated population is a boon and offers enormous potential, financial and social provisions for the elderly need to be addressed. The government should continue reforming the pension system to tackle social exclusion and poverty. Furthermore, the country’s record on environmental issues, education and innovation is poor when compared to other OECD countries. Since these areas are key to supporting Turkey’s growing population and economy, the government should increase expenditure in these areas. Illegal immigration and the refugee situation are exacerbating social tensions and leading to widespread discrimination.
As key regional power, should pursue dialogue
Turkey has become a major emerging economy and a key regional power. However, it increasingly struggles with the repercussions of internal conflicts in neighboring and regional countries, and the coup attempt of 15 July 2016. In order to regain credibility and influence, Turkey should use diplomatic means to re-establish trust, peace and security in the region, and pursue dialogue with reliable regional actors and Western partners. Turkey’s international influence and credibility would further increase if the government became more involved in and implemented more international agreements, especially OSCE, Council of Europe and EU agreements.

Party Polarization

Polarization a
chronic condition
Polarization, fragmentation and instability have been chronic maladies of the Turkish party system, especially in the 1970s and 1990s. In 2002, the incumbent Justice and Development Party (AKP) won the general election and was able to rule the country as a one-party government for more than 15 years. Since 2007, the ruling AKP government has challenged the parliamentary party system. In a 2017 constitutional referendum, the AKP government was able to strengthen the role of the president of the republic.
Use of “us” vs. “them” rhetoric to drive support
With the re-emergence of traditional cleavages (e.g., Kurdish vs Turkish, Alevis vs Sunnis and secular vs religious), the AKP has increasingly used polarizing rhetoric in public discourse. In other words, the AKP has used a discourse of “us” (oppressed) and “them” (oppressor) to consolidate its support. The major reasons for the polarization of party politics have been the exclusion of opposing social, economic and political groups in terms of their identity and values. Other causes of polarization include the majoritarian governance model; lack of democracy and rule of law; permanent election space; and lack of transparency, meritocracy and accountability in the state system.
Discourse and rights
are constrained
Elites in Turkey are so polarized that they are even unable to reach a consensus on whether there is polarization or not. Imposing the idea of elites vs the people has contributed to the development of a dualistic society. In Turkey’s majoritarian governance system, opposition is ignored not only by political discourse, but also by limiting the democratic space in which fundamental rights and freedoms can be exercised. Pro-government elites assert that the averted coup attempt of 2016 helped conquer polarization, while opponents of the government argue that it serves the further division of Turkish society.
System, not polarization,
is key reform hurdle
Almost a decade ago, political polarization was seen as the major obstacle to Turkey’s transformation toward European standards. However, now it is the Turkish political system that is the major obstacle to economic reform. The majoritarian principle cannot be a solution. Instead, institutional reforms to strengthen the democratic system (e.g., lowering the 10% electoral threshold) need to be implemented.
Deep polarization creates further dangers
The tendency to take sides in this deeply polarized climate is dangerous not only because it entails harsh political debates, but it also creates further division within society and threatens the existence of civil society. Increasing polarization in political and social life is one of the key factors hindering democratization. Under the successive AKP governments, trade union models based on political interests rather than social and trade union rights, and the governments’ economic policies have increased polarization and negatively affected the trade union movement in Turkey.
Echo-chamber effect precludes compromise
The “echo-chamber” phenomenon and the lack of impartial media outlets, which would serve as intermediaries between political tribes, will facilitate the rise of impermeable walls and amplify the polarizing rhetoric of politicians. Without having the possibility to understand the other views, voters will form their preferences through the lenses of their camps. As a result of this failure, discussions between different political constituencies will take the form of mutual declarations of moral superiorities and will not achieve consensus or compromise.
Far-reaching and
toxic effects
The consequences of such a polarized environment are problematic and far-reaching. Drafting a new constitution, which is based on consensus, has become impossible in this toxic environment of “polarization, erosion of a common and good reference and distrust.” This political setting provides a fertile environment for pragmatic politicians targeting quick victories in a permanent elections space. Political divides between camps may be exploited and enhanced by the polarizing rhetoric of politicians. This situation makes the rise of new political actors very difficult, since all poles of the cleavages are already occupied and voter transition between camps is difficult. Hence, the winners and the losers of these elections will be from the same pool of politicians. (Score: 3)
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