The Warring States of Turkey

BANGALORE, INDIA – Turkey’s democratic experiment appears to be floundering. A decade of stellar political and economic performance had convinced many analysts that the country could be an inspiration, if not a model, for the rest of the Muslim Middle East. But the government’s actions over the last few months – which mark a trend, rather than being isolated incidents – have jeopardized many of Turkey’s achievements.

It all began with a wave of corruption charges, based on considerable evidence, brought against government officials, businessmen, and politicians’ family members. Of course, corruption by itself does not pose a serious threat to democracy, especially in the developing world. India, for example, remains a functioning democracy, despite high-level corruption that far exceeds anything that Turkey has experienced.

The problem in Turkey has been the government’s excessive response to the corruption investigations: removing thousands of police officers and reassigning hundreds of prosecutors and judges. The authorities’ heavy-handed retaliation for a legitimate inquiry became an international scandal, eroding confidence in the commitment of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to democratic norms.

A better approach would have been to appoint a high-level committee to investigate the allegations – a strategy that Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has repeatedly employed to defuse public anger over corruption scandals. By the time the long-drawn-out process of inquiry and report-writing is complete – often years after it began – most people have forgotten the original charge, and the accused are frequently either politically irrelevant or dead.