For both COMMENTARY MAGAZINE and here at Contentions, I’ve written a lot about Turkey in recent years. The reason is two-fold: First, Turkey is an important country, and its support was crucial to the United States during the Cold War; and, second, as an ostensibly democratic, Muslim-majority country spanning continents, Turkey is often upheld as a model for the region.
Alas, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is accelerating Turkey’s backslide from democracy. His target now is separation of power. There were earlier hints of this, for example the 2005 threat by Bülent Arınç, at the time speaker of the parliament, to dissolve the constitutional court if it continued to find AKP legislation unconstitutional. Erdoğan subsequently promoted Arınç to be his chief deputy, but he still had plausible deniability since it was his proxy rather than himself who uttered the threat.
Now, however, Erdoğan is attacking separation of power directly. According to the Hürriyet Daily News:
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has described the separation of powers as the government’s main obstacle, saying it was preventing them from introducing “further services.” “Even during our own governing tenure, we are having some troubles. Unfortunately, the errors within the system are the causes of those troubles. Since the system was built the wrong way, we are facing some unexpected troubles. Bureaucracy blocks our path or we face the judiciary unexpectedly….”
When a prime minister—one who has imprisoned more journalists than China, Iran, or Russia—complains about the separation of power and the obstacles caused by independent courts, alarm bells should go off in Europe and the United States. That the president of the United States and more than 150 Congressmen endorse his antics certainly sends the wrong message not only to Turkey’s liberals, democrats, and dissidents, but to every regional state which believes Turkey provides a model for political development.