Turkey’s Erdogan: Democratic Authoritarian?

By Matt Klineman 


[dropcap]T[/dropcap]urkey has always existed in an amorphous middle ground, straddling the line between Asia and Europe, East and West.  Pulled between two continents—and two sets of ideals.  

And now, it seems, Recep Tayyip Erdogan may be solidifying his own middle ground, occupying the intersection between Democracy and Authoritarianism.

President Erdogan has often been compared to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the father of modern Turkey, combining what many see as the best of Middle Eastern Democracy with a strong dose of devout Islamism.  Indeed, when Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party—AKP by its Turkish initials—vaulted into power in 2002, it was seen as a positive step for the Middle East: a populist uprising led by religious Muslims that reconciled faith and Democratic politics.  According to Gallup Polls—and, more importantly, election results—he and his party enjoyed high approval ratings while he served as Prime Minister from 2003 until 2014.

The question then becomes: is Erdogan’s lean toward authoritarianism representative of the will of the people, or of his own grab for power?  Turkey now has one of the highest rates of incarceration for journalists —almost matching Iran—and in March of 2014, he attempted to “rip out the roots” of Twitter, blocking service to the social media platform.  Though the order was later overturned in court, that has not stopped Erdogan from consolidating power; in 2014 he was elected President with 51.8% of the vote. The transition from Prime Minister to President would ordinarily have resulted in diminishing control, but with Erdogan, it appears to be a consolidation of executive power.  Just this past January, he drew backlash for citing Hitler’s Germany as an example of efficient executive governance.    

But so long as Erdogan continues to enjoy the support of the people, is it really fair to judge him by Western standards?  If the people continue electing a tyrant, is he really a tyrant?


Matt Klineman is a freshman in Berkeley College. Contact him at matthew.klineman@yale.edu.