The twists and turns of politics in Turkey have been head-spinning since December 17, when prosecutors and policemen moved in to arrest the sons of three high-ranking ministers, the head of a large public bank, and a shady Iranian-Azerbaijani businessman. This was followed by evidence allegedly implicating Prime Minister Erdoğan and his son in massive corruption and documenting extensive meddling in judicial cases.
Erdoğan’s response was swift. He argued that this was a coup attempt by his erstwhile ally and current foe, Pennsylvania-based preacher Fethullah Gülen, whose supporters had come to dominate key positions in the police and the judiciary. The court cases against Erdoğan’s allies were halted, and thousands of prosecutors, judges and policemen, suspected of being associated with Gülen and un-loyal to the government were relocated or cast aside.
This all went hand-in-hand with a crackdown on the media, further curbs on civil liberties, and the blocking of Twitter and YouTube, where many recordings purportedly related to these high-stakes corruption cases were being released.
It was enough to make even the most optimistic observers of Turkish democracy, or whatever was left of it, despair. And then the government got a decisive victory in the local elections in March, deepening the despair of many.
Is it possible to see some rays of hope for the future of Turkish democracy in this pile of gloom?
Daron’s article in Foreign Affairs argues that there is still hope because this is part of a painful process of institutional rebalancing away from the dominance of the military-bureaucratic elite. However perilous this process may be — all the more so because of the weakness of Turkish institutions and the authoritarian tendencies of Erdoğan — there was probably no other path for Turkey then going through it and hoping to survive it with the help of a newly-emerging vibrant civil society.
Erik Meyersson and Dani Rodrik in a thoughtful, if more pessimistic piece also in Foreign Affairs, disagreed, seeing the rise of Erdoğan and his party as an unblemished bad for Turkish institutions in society.