A dictatorship gives total power to its ruler and its hallmark is often a cult of personality.
Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), whose former leader now serves as President of Turkey, has demonstrated intolerance of political opposition, public protest, and independent (i.e. critical) media. The breakdown of a peace process and escalating conflict between Turkish security forces and the armed Kurdistan Workers’ Party has led to mounting civilian deaths and multiple human rights violations.
- Dictatorship involves the rule of one person or a small group led by one person.
According to The Guardian (“President Erdoğan is now targeting anyone who doesn’t support him”, 7 November 2016): “The government has been using the attempted coup on 15 July as an excuse to silence anyone who is critical of the ruling AKP party. The ongoing state of emergency has granted the government extraordinary powers: the European convention of human rights has been temporarily suspended and the period in which suspects can be detained has been extended to 30 days. The authorities have arrested 37,000 people, including 150 journalists and writers. They have closed down more than 200 media outlets and publishing houses, more than 100 universities and hospitals, and expelled 100,000 teachers, academics and civil servants.”
- The rule of a dictator is neither transparent nor accountable to the people or to democratic processes.
Erdoğan was Turkey’s first democratically elected president, but there is little to show that the country is currently run according to democratic norms. The current State of Emergency rule is being used as a wide net that not only targets coup conspirators, but also Erdoğan’s opponents. It is non-transparent, unaccountable, and it further erodes Turkey’s already weakened democratic institutions.
- Rule by force is the eternal law of dictatorship.
After the 2016 coup, thousands were arrested, and thousands of civil servants (supporters of the many secular-oriented officials who opposed Erdoğan in the past) were ousted from their jobs. Carrying out this purge was intended to eliminate any criticism or opposition.
- Freedom of expression and freedom of the press are curtailed or drastically censored
In 2015 and 2016 a massive assault on freedom of the press in Turkey led to a government shutdown of newspapers and magazines. Editorial staff have been arrested and hauled before the courts. Erdoğan has publicly condemned editors and media outlets and labelled them a threat to Turkey’s national security.
- The ideology of nationalism is used as a means to gain credibility for the interests of the ruler.
The Justice and Development Party (AKP) and Erdoğan promote a bellicose ideology of self-assertion and national glory, aimed at overcoming various supposed enemies. They endorse an identity based on Turkish history and its strategic geographical position.
- Dictatorship pays little attention to the rights of the people and only lip service to democratic freedoms.
Under Erdoğan’s rule, Turkish democracy has weakened. Academics and intellectuals have been arrested for signing petitions calling on the government to cease military operations in the Kurdish-dominated South East Anatolia region. The constitution has been changed to remove the immunity of about 140 members of the parliament – a move primarily intended to expel Kurdish MPs. The right to freedom of peaceful assembly continues to be violated. Cases of excessive use of force by police and ill-treatment in detention have increased. Impunity for human rights abuses persists.
- The ruler exercises power for life or for as much time as he can.
Erdoğan has been the 12th President of Turkey since 2014. He previously served as Prime Minister of Turkey from 2003 to 2014. As President, he has advocated an executive presidency that would boost his own powers and has maintained a despotic influence over political affairs despite the symbolic nature of his office.
- The ruler uses war and aggression as a means to divert attention from domestic problems.
Erdoğan destroyed the peace process with the Kurdish rebels that he started a few years ago and launched a major military campaign in the Kurdish cities, which left thousands of people homeless, injured and dead. Turkey has also been accused of supporting the war against Syria for its own ends: to destroy Kurdish political dissidents.
In “Is Turkey still a democracy?” (BBC News, 5 November 2016), Mark Lowen comments:
“Is Turkey still a democracy? As ever, it depends on which side you speak to in this polarised country. The victims of the post-coup purge, leftists, secularists and Erdogan critics believe democracy here died some time ago as the president, shaken by challenges, expelled or sued opponents and fell back on a close circle of ultra loyalists. But the other half of the country – and it is split almost evenly in two – revere a man they believe has transformed Turkey for the better and is misunderstood by the outside world.”