Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Contemporary Turkish Politics: Challenges to Democratic Consolidation

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Contemporary Turkish Politics: Challenges to Democratic Consolidation

Article excerpt

Contemporary Turkish Politics: Challenges to Democratic Consolidation, by Ergun Ozbudun. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2000. ix + 154 pages. Abbrevs. to p. 156. Bibl. to p. 164. Index to p. 169. $49.95.

Islam and Society in Turkey, by David Shankland. Huntingdon, UK: The Eothen Press, 1999. x + 177 pages. Notes to p. 197. Append. to p. 214. Bibl. to p. 228. Index to p. 240. $55 cloth; $35 paper.

These two recent books, one by a senior scholar of Turkish politics, are welcome additions to the growing literature on Turkey's recent travails with Islamism, secularism and democracy.

Ergun Ozbudun, who has a distinguished record of publications on the Turkish state and democracy, has updated and synthesized elements of his earlier work in a book-length study that addresses, within a comparative framework, the question of sustaining democracy in an underdeveloped country that is often held up as an exception in, and a model for, the rest of the Muslim Middle East. The most important asset of this book, however, is that it takes the readers out of the strait-jacket of studying Turkey within a strictly Middle Eastern framework and opens up new horizons of global comparison. Ozbudun's comparative framework mainly draws upon the literature on democracy in Latin America and makes use of theoretical concepts generated therein.

After a brief introduction, in Chapter 2 ("Democratic Transitions, Breakdowns, and Restorations in Comparative Perspective"), which sets the comparative theoretical framework and addresses historical origins, Ozbudun characterizes Turkey as a "second-wave democracy" for having experienced the transition to a multi-party system already in the early post-Second World War period. He notes, however, that the regime, itself, engineered and controlled this transition from above. He attributes this to the inherent democratic tendencies of Kemalism and its political party, the Republican People's Party (RPP), that inevitably began to unfold as reforms were successfully completed: "the success of Kemalist reforms undermined the long-term legitimacy of the single-party system" (p. 22). But this situation contained an ambiguity. The initiation of the reform process by the RPP resulted "in turn in the transition to democracy with no institutional break with the old regime" (p. 24). It is due to this precarious balance that frequent crises of democracy lead to military interventions, which then quickly give way back to democratic transitions.

Despite its significance in setting up the comparative framework, this longest (pp. 13-48) and most important chapter ends on an analytically disappointing note. After having examined in the main body of the chapter the causes of, for example, the 1980 intervention by reference to Guillermo O'Donnel's theory of the bureaucraticauthoritarian state as an outcome of the crisis of import-substituting industrialization in Latin American countries, Ozbudun, as if completely ignoring this discussion, states in conclusion that "none of the three breakdowns of democracy in Turkey seem to be the inevitable outcome of deep-seated structural or sociological causes." He prefers a semi-psychological explanation: "In all cases the behavior of the leaders of political parties loom large as a factor leading to the breakdown" (p. 43).

The following chapters address specific aspects of the political regime in Turkey. Chapter 3 indicates that, based on comparative evidence, if constitutions are made through a participatory, consensual method, then they contribute to the consolidation of democracy. This, however, has not been the case in Turkey. Chapter 4 focuses on the structure of political parties and observes that they are oligarchically organized and tightly controlled by the leadership. Electoral volatility, party fragmentation, and ideological polarization are obstacles to democratic consolidation. Chapter 5 addresses the role of the military, "one of the most important actors in the country's politics" (p. …

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