As several observers of Turkish politics concur, since the beginning of the year we have been witnessing an undeclared bureaucratic -- i.e., judicial -- coup in the making. Far from upholding the rule of law, the closure case against the governing Justice and Development Party (AK Party) is widely viewed as part and parcel of a political and ideological position that hardly stands any chance of gaining the public's approval through legitimate democratic channels. It is, in that sense, an attempt for the imposition of a particular ideology and political project on the Turkish society through extra-political channels, not unlike previous military interventions. The growing assertiveness of the judiciary emerges as yet another challenge to the consolidation of democracy, similar to the negative effects of military coups on democratization.
As scholars on democratic transition, like Adam Przeworski, argue, democracy implies subjecting all interests to competition and institutionalized uncertainty. A consolidated democracy is one that is self-enforcing, i.e., an equilibrium in which major political actors agree to submit their interests and values to the outcome of institutional rules which are unknown ex ante. The process of democratic consolidation refers to passing a threshold beyond which all actors, including the losers, agree to avoid intervening to reverse outcomes of the political process through extra-political channels. To put it differently, consolidation alters the preferences and strategies of political actors, and democracy becomes the only game in town.
Because the armed forces are the most significant actors with a capability to overturn the constitutional order and reverse political outcomes, transitions from authoritarian rule in most cases go hand in hand, and come to be identified, with a struggle for withdrawal of the military from civilian politics and the enhancing of civilian control over the military. The processes of democratization and re-democratization are complex in nature. The factors that lead to the transformation of an authoritarian regime and the factors that give way to installation and eventual consolidation of a stable democratic rule may differ. The consolidation of democracy, in most cases, has been more troublesome than the transition to democracy.
Opportunity costs of guardianship: barriers to consolidation
Turkish democracy suffered a great deal from periodic military interventions and indirect interferences in civilian politics. Because direct military rule was short lived, re-democratizations were achieved in a relatively short time period in the Turkish case. Because the Turkish military preferred to exert its influence through indirect channels, however, the consolidation of democracy was never completed. The costs of military interventions, therefore, went beyond forcing a temporary vacation from the democratic experience, instead leaving permanent effects in their aftermath. For one, the dark shadow of new constitutional orders created by military regimes and the institutions put in place by soldiers have continued to narrow the scope of democratic politics in subsequent periods.
To the extent that non-political interference remains an option, democracy can hardly establish itself as the only game in town. This situation brings forth an important question, posed by Przeworski, which is crucial for the durability of democracy: How can losers to abide by democratic decisions and support, rather than subvert, democratic institutions. In a setting characterized by military or other non-political guardianship over a democratic mandate, the preference and strategies of political actors differ from the patterns in established democracies. As long as losers have incentives to utilize undemocratic avenues to realize their political projects, their commitment to democracy and the outcome of democratic processes will be hindered. The winners, in contrast, never feel fully secure despite the popular legitimacy they possess. Their survival instinct forces them to put a high premium on avoiding a possible intervention, which is not conducive to deepening democratization. In the Turkish case, for one, the shadow of intervention has set major brakes against any party seeking to dismantle the remnants of authoritarianism in the Turkish state system. More importantly, the use of non-political channels has served to perpetuate the limited notion of democracy underpinning the right/center-right position -- i.e., winners -- in Turkish politics.
The standard framework of analysis for politics in multi-party period in Turkey was based on center-periphery dichotomy, namely a struggle for redefining the balance of power between the core institutions that traditionally are controlled by non-elected state elites representing the state power and the peripheral societal actors, which have been represented by various right and center-right parties. As a matter of fact, the major currency of center-right parties in their quest for recognition against the establishment was their staunch commitment to a narrow notion of procedural democracy. Using the power of ballot box effectively, they made significant advances in expanding their power and influence. As the successor of the center-right position, representing large segments of the Turkish society that are upwardly mobile and increasingly ambitious to share political power, yet determined to maintain their conservative lifestyle, the AK Party is poised to encounter the bureaucratic core. The current crisis is yet another showdown in this perennial struggle.
Just as extra-political interventions prevent parties representing the state ideology from fully embracing popular legitimacy, they also relieve the parties advocating a center-right platform from the burden of going beyond a minimalist conceptualization of democracy. It is in that regard illustrative to recall the shooting game between the Republican People's Party (CHP) and the AK Party; the former threatening to refer legislative acts to judicial review by the court, and the latter referring to -- early -- elections and referenda. The idea that bureaucratic establishment seeks to constrain the demands of peripheral forces has provided center-right parties with a custom-made mobilization tool, as the good showing of the AK Party in the July 2007 elections attests. The feeling of encirclement by the bureaucratic core, moreover, has forced these peripheral sectors into a defensive mood to preserve the precious mechanical features of democratic process from bureaucratic encroachment. Democratization in that sense is reduced to an ongoing struggle to ensure the continuation of the game.
Political liberalization as strategy of survival
Democracy, however, is a moving target, and ensuring the right to contestation and participation are necessary but insufficient qualifications for cotemporary liberal democracies based on the indispensability of basic freedoms. Although the concept of liberal democracy tends to equate democratization and liberalization, these two concepts refer to two interrelated but independent phenomena. Democratic consolidation today means a transition from procedural democracy to liberal democracy.
The AK Party leadership appears to have concluded that the party's survival depends on further democratization. It also must have realized that winning elections is no longer a panacea. For the consolidation of a thicker notion of democracy, the AK Party needs to revitalize the liberal roots of the center-right tradition and go beyond minimalist democracy. Without expanding pluralism and freedom, it is difficult to eliminate reserved domains of power for social or political forces that are not democratically accountable. Such a freedom-oriented perspective also would be the best way to reconfigure the system of constitutional checks and balances. By moving away from the current system which serves to maintain a state ideology against social trends to a system that guarantees basic rights and civil liberties without discriminating between societal preferences, it could develop truly "democratic" controls over democratic outcomes. By protecting individuals and groups against arbitrary treatment by not only other individuals and groups but also the state, the AK Party could level the playing field for all. Agreeing to limit not only the state power but also the governmental power and to expand freedoms for all, the AK Party could best alleviate the fears that it is manipulating its electoral successes to install a majoritarian democracy.