The Uncertain Path of the ‘New Turkey’
At the end of a year marked by turbulences both on the domestic and the regional levels and on the eve of crucial parliamentary elections, Turkey’s ‘success story’ seems to have waned, at least for a while, and its ‘golden years’ look now like a distant memory.
For a decade, Turkey was hailed as an advancing democracy, an emerging economy with impressive growing rates and an assertive regional power. The Justice and Development Party (AKP), which won three consecutive general elections in 2002, 2007 and 2011 gaining overwhelming majorities, has played a key role in this success story. The ‘AKP era’ has witnessed profound transformations in Turkish politics, society and economy. A conservative party promoting religious values and market-oriented policies, the AKP led by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the most charismatic Turkish leader since Mustafa Kemal, transformed Turkey’s into a stable political system and a dynamic market which attracted huge international investments as never before. Today Turkey is a more dynamic and developed country than at the beginning of 2000s. Having tripled its GDP from $230 billion in 2002 to $820 billion in 2013, the country is the 17th world economy, with the ambition to become the 10th by 2023. Although deep disparities remain, Turkey has witnessed a widespread improvement of its living conditions, access to welfare and infrastructures. Furthermore, the AKP has permitted the emergence in the public sphere – for decades dominated by Kemalist ideology – of major segments of provincial and conservative Turkish society that abide by traditional religious values.
At the regional level, Turkey has become one of the most influential players in the Middle East. Foreign policy dynamism coupled with an export-oriented economic model, access to a wide range of new markets and the diversification of partners allowed Turkey to significantly improve its international standing. The AKP can also take credit for bringing the country closer to the goal of European Union (EU) accession, starting negotiations at the end of 2005.
However, this bright picture does not entirely fit the current situation. After 2007 the reform process began to lose momentum as the ruling party started focusing more on strengthening its power, countering what it defined the ‘deep state’ and sidelining domestic opponents. At the same time, difficulties in the accession negotiations with the EU emerged, and the European anchor for democratic reforms lost its leverage and the population’s support for EU membership declined. Polarization started to increasingly characterize Turkish politics and society, and domestic dissent amplified after the 2011 general election when the AKP consolidated its ‘majority rule’ regime, neglecting and disregarding any form of dissent.
In the last eighteen months, the Gezi Park protests, the heavy-handed tactics used to quell them, the corruption scandal – followed by restrictions of the press freedom and the deterioration of the institutional system of checks and balances – have eroded the democratic process that Turkey had been enjoying, while showing the fragilities and the inner divisions of what had been acclaimed as the ‘Turkish model’.
ISPI report aims at analysing the main features and changes Turkey witnessed in the ‘AKP era’, as well as the reasons underlying the reversing path the country has been walking through both at domestic and regional levels in the last few years. The aim is to understand if this means the conclusion of the successful cycle or a turning point towards a new, but uncertain, era. It is worth noting that, following his election to the presidency of the Turkish Republic in August 2014, Erdoğan expressed his intention to build a ‘New Turkey’, emphasizing five points: advancing the democratic process; modifying the Constitution; solving the Kurdish issue; improving welfare and moving forwards on the EU accession negotiations. However, looking at recent developments many questions have been raised about where the ‘New Turkey’ is heading.
The texts and data featured in this presentation are based on the researches conducted by the authors of the Report:
Meliha Benli Altunışık, Professor of International Relations and currently the Dean of the Graduate School of Social Sciences at the Middle East Technical University, Ankara, Turkey
Dimitar Bechev, D.Phil (Oxon), Visiting Fellow at the European Institute, London School of Economics and Political Science
Mustafa Kutlay, Research Fellow at the International Strategic Research Organization, Ankara, Turkey
Murat Somer, Associate Professor of Politics and International Relations at Koç University, Istanbul, Turkey
Valeria Talbot, Senior Research Fellow and head of the Mediterranean and Middle East Programme, ISPI
The travails of Turkish domestic politics (Clone)
"Turkey is going through a complex and challenging phase in its political development. The hegemony established by the AKP and Erdoğan’s charismatic leadership have contributed a great deal to stability, delivering stable government and sound economic policies conducive to growth. That explains the unyielding support helping the party to fend off successive challenges, both from within the broad Islamist movement and the secularist spectrum. Equally, the extended stay in government has led to forms of symbiosis with or even capture of the state which, in the absence of a well functioning system of checks and balances, has pushed Turkish politics into an illiberal direction." Dimitar Bechev
Turkey's turn: the evolution of Turkey's political landscape since the creation of AKP
"When the AKP came to government at the end of 2002, many envisioned that it would play a leading role in reconciling Islam and democracy by democratizing the Turkish state and its secularism’s implementation (laiklik in Turkish). Twelve years later, there are widespread signs and concerns that the AKP, without diminishing or democratizing the state’s powers in religious affairs, it started to use these powers in order to promote religion in both social life and state affairs." Murat Somer
"Many changes augmented state-religion integration and state-promoted religion in society and politics. The best indicator is the growth of the Diyanet, the Ministry of Religious Affairs, whose staff increased 45% between 2010 and 2013 and the share in the total government budget grew from 0,14% to 1,2%. Moreover, through various new regulations and practices the weight of imam-hatip schools and religious curriculums were increased in education." Murat Somer
Number of students enrolled in Imam-Hatip schools (2002-2014)
"Having accrued sufficient power to make changes in laiklik, the AKP increasingly began to do so mainly by concentrating on only one side of laiklik’s democratic deficits. Without diminishing or democratizing the state’s powers in religious affairs, it started to use these powers in order to promote religion in both social life and state affairs.
There have been some important changes merely improving religious public freedoms without necessarily promoting religion. The single most important one has lifted the Islamic headscarf ban in schools and civil service except for judges, prosecutors, police and the military." Murat Somer
Turkish economy in the post-2011: a turbulent period
"Turkey’s political economy transformed significantly over the last decade. The AKP turned out to be the main actor of this transformation. However, the ‘AKP era’ does not constitute a monolithic period. The first period refers to the ‘golden years’ that broadly covers 2002 to 2007. In this interval the economy performed significantly well in comparison to its own historical standards. This economic vibrancy coincided with an unprecedented wave of democratization reforms partially thanks to the acceleration in the EU candidacy process. The second period refers to the ‘recalibration years’ that broadly covers 2007 to 2011. In this period the Turkish economy encountered the global economic crisis, the most devastating turmoil since the Great Depression of 1929. Accordingly, the economy shrank by 4.7 per cent. Thanks to the resilience of its financial system and robust fiscal discipline, however, Turkey managed to weather the global economic storm. The third phase refers to the ‘turbulent years’ that marks a new threshold opened up after the 2011 elections. On the economic scene Turkey experienced significant problems due to the deceleration of growth rates. The fiscal-financial system that relied on the regulatory state paradigm does not seem enough to underpin high growth rates anymore as the structural problems of the economy began to surface." Mustafa Kutlay
Turkey GDP growth rate
"Turkey is now approaching a new economic turning point in the sense that GDP per capita in current prices has now passed the 10,000-dollar threshold, placing itself among the middle-income economies. In this stage, the economy is moving from a labor-intensive to a capital intensive production, from low and medium technologies to hi-tech exports. Unfortunately, Turkey’s economy is still based on mid-tech manufactured goods, showing that Turkey is far from being a successful country in term of high tech value exports. The low share of high-tech goods over total manufacture Turkey’s exports become more visible if compared to the so-called BRIC countries and even more if compared to the rest of the world." Mustafa Kutlay
High-tech exports over total manufactured exports
"Since economic development constitutes one of the main pillars of Turkish foreign policy proactivism, the sustainability of Turkey’s current economic performance becomes an integral part of its regional power strategies. Turkey needs to develop more inclusive institutions in the economic, technological, educational, legal and R&D realms to overcome the middle-income trap. Turkey’s current institutional performance, however, is not promising in any of the related areas." Mustafa Kutlay
Share of R&D expenditures over GDP
The AKP’s Middle East Policy: Amidst Domestic and Regional Challenges
"Since coming to power the AKP has paid special attention to the Middle East. The region became the most visible example of the implementation of three main pillars of the government’s foreign policy perspective: zero problems with neighbours, expanding economic relations, and mediating conflicts. Especially up until 2009 these policies increased Turkey’s actorness in the region. Turkey failed to achieve its objectives in resolving the conflicts in most of these cases, but through its involvement was able to brand itself as a benign regional power working to introduce stability and order. The situation began to change with the surge of the Arab Spring." Meliha Benli Altunışık
Turkish foreign policy: from "Zero problems with neighbours" to "precious loneliness"
Resetting Turkey-EU Relations?
"Looking at Turkey, the EU has two main concerns. The first relates to domestic developments: the regression of the rule of law, the erosion of democratic institutions and the constraints to the freedom of the press, as well as the reduction in the autonomy of the judiciary. The latter concern relates precisely to regional developments and the fact that Turkey appears increasingly engulfed in the Middle East’s turmoil.
Although Brussels and Ankara have not always converged on regional issues, Turkey remains a key strategic partner for the EU and it would be important for it to regain its constructive and stabilizing role. Beyond the Turkish government’s rhetoric on the EU objective, tangible steps from Ankara would contribute to dispel Brussels’ concerns and reassure on the path the country intends to take.
The EU has to regain credibility in Turkey’s eyes. Concrete signs from the EU towards Ankara could generate positive effects on Turkish policy makers and public opinion, give new credit to the EU and offer new opportunities for cooperation especially in sectors and issues where the two have common interests." Valeria Talbot