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Despite Growing Opposition, AKP Remains the Dominant Force in Turkish Politics

Turkey Update

Speakers: Steven A. Cook, Hasib J. Sabbagh Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
Henri J. Barkey, Cohen Professor of International Relations, Lehigh University
Presider: Jonathan Tepperman, Managing Editor, Foreign Affairs
April 7, 2014

Event Description

In the past year, Turkey's prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling AKP party have faced mass protests in Istanbul and other major cities, a widely publicized corruption scandal with deep roots in the party leadership, and a backlash over attempts to censor Twitter and other media. Despite these scandals and growing dissatisfaction with his administration, the AKP managed to win a plurality in the most recent municipal elections. CFR's Steven Cook and Lehigh University's Henri Barkey join Foreign Affairs Managing Editor Jonathan Tepperman to discuss recent events in Turkey and the country's future political trajectory. The panelists warn that Turkey appears to be reversing a two-decade-long trend of democratic reform and becoming increasingly authoritarian.

Event Highlights

Steven Cook on the AKP's relatively strong showing in recent municipal elections:

"But the AKP in the previous decade has given you running water, has put money in your pocket, transportation options and health care—there is such a thing called Erdogancare—that all things being equal, you're going to vote for those people rather than the people who didn't care about you, who are just kind of sort of left of center elitists who never cared about you and who are just as corrupt. And I think that's the reason why they tallied as much as they did."

Henri Barkey on Erdogan's future ambitions:

"I still think he wants to be the president. Now, in Turkey the presidency is more symbolic. The real power is in the prime minister's office. But you have to understand that Erdogan is a person who not only fills up any vacuum, but every nook and cranny of Turkish politics. He has that kind of personality. So even if the presidency is not as powerful as the prime ministership, I think the bully pulpit and his control over the party is so intense, immense, that he can still go and be the president without changing the constitution and still exercise an enormous amount of power."

Steven Cook on Turkey's recent move toward more authoritarian rule:

"I think that Turkey's a case study in the reversibility of democratic reforms. This is the same prime minister who oversaw nine constitutional packages that allowed Turkey to get a formal invitation to join the European Union. Now, Europe is off the table now. But what they've done is essentially over the course of eight, nine months, more, reversed many—and the writing was on the wall well before that—that they were reversing these kinds of strengthening of freedoms of the press and freedom of expression and so on and so forth. So I think Turkey will be more authoritarian."

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