What's Afoot in Turkey?  
Thursday, February 7, 2013
Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson

In mid-2000s, Turkey was becoming fast the darling of the international community. The economy was booming. Turkish democracy seemed more secure, even vibrant, for first time in decades, perhaps ever. After all, a party standing very much against the principles of the meddlesome and the all-powerful Turkish military, the Justice and Development Party (known by its Turkish acronyms, AKP, for Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi), had just catapulted to power, winning 34% of the national vote in the November 2002 elections. The AKP — ‘mildly Islamist’ or with ‘roots in political Islam’ as it is sometimes referred to in foreign media — even withstood much bullying and intimidation from the staunchly secularist military, which threatened a coup with a memorandum on its website in April 2007 as the AKP was gaining control of the presidency. Other parts of the anti-democratic Turkish establishment were also gunning against the AKP; the Constitutional Court, for example, attempted to close the party. But the AKP, and in the process Turkish democracy, survived.

What’s more, a peaceful solution to the Kurdish problem appeared on the horizon (the official line was shifting from the denial of the existence of Kurds, viewed simply as ‘mountain Turks’, to allowing Kurdish language broadcasts and publications and even some degree of local autonomy). And Turkey was taking surefooted steps towards accession to the European Union, a process promising to anchor democracy, human rights and civil liberties to European standards.

Then it all capsized. 

To be sure, the love affair of the foreign media with the AKP and its charismatic leader, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, did not end all at once. As late as last year, the favorite Western commentary on Egypt was to suggest that they should emulate Turkey (and perhaps they are!).

The Turkish economy is still growing though more slowly, and the current account deficit has now reached an alarming size, make any sudden stop a real danger (and the bubbly housing market might still turn south).

More importantly, it’s becoming harder for even outsiders not to see the problems in Turkish politics.

A few snippets should give a fairly good sense of how Turkey is fast turning from democratic haven in the Middle East to unblemished authoritarianism.

 

So what’s going on in Turkey? And how did we get here from the rosy days of the last decade? 

The next several posts will investigate the origins of Turkish political and economic institutions and the troubled history of Turkish democracy, where we believe some of the answers lie.

Article originally appeared on Why Nations Fail by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson (http://whynationsfail.com/).
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