The greatest damage done by Turkey’s ruling party: the destruction of institutions

The policies pursued by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) over the last eight years will have grave and far-reaching consequences for the future of Turkey. 

Society, politics and particularly the economy have suffered major blows due to the rapid collapse of the country’s institutions. 

It is clear that growth rates have been declining in Europe and elsewhere in the world, but in none of the developed countries is the growth rate as low as it is in Turkey, where economic activity declined by 2.4 percent on a quarterly basis in the three months to December after a 1.6 percent decrease in the previous three months. The situation is perilous, as the IMF predicts the Turkish economy will shrink by 2.5 percent in 2019.

The destruction of Turkey’s institutions is the main reason why the AKP, which came to power in 2002 promising stability and prosperity, has produced negative growth and the high inflation. 

It is possible to make a long list of those institutions that have been destroyed and to analyse them separately, but in this article I will talk about a few I think are important. I would caution against anyone searching for a golden age of Turkish institutions: They were poorly functioning in the past, but today they have been destroyed. 

I emphasise that they have not failed, but have been destroyed as the AKP in recent years has been seeking economic, political, and social gains from the collapse of institutions. Let us underline this point, the collapse of institutions is catastrophic for society, but a small group in power can gain from this catastrophe and that is what has been happening in Turkey. 

The rule of law, as a legal and constitutional concept, is the most critical institution that has been destroyed. The rule of law, with all its institutions, has always been problematic in Turkey. In 1971, for example, the appeals court described non-Muslim citizens as foreigners. In 2007, the Constitutional Court sided with secularists and annulled the presidential vote in parliament, in an attempt to block the AKP's Abdullah Gül from running for the presidency. We never had a golden age when it comes to institutions. 

However, an increasing rate of decay can be detected since 2010. Neither anyone in Turkey nor or abroad, including those in the AKP, now has any confidence in the country’s legal institutions. In an environment where the rule of law is destroyed, one cannot talk about the existence of a society or state. Because establishing a state consequently means establishing the rule of law; therefore destroying the rule of law means destroying the state. We can observe this unpleasant fact in every facet of life. 

In a place where legal institutions have collapsed, relations between people and institutions become to a large extent uncertain and this in turn creates bottlenecks in the economy. If there is no rule of law, as is the case today, then there are no property rights. In a country where property rights are easily undermined, savings and investments evaporate. Within that framework, Turkey has been facing severe bottlenecks in foreign direct investment, which is crucial for the country to achieve sustainable growth. 

The recent ruling of the Constitutional Court regarding philanthropist Osman Kavala, demonstrates that it has now crossed the boundaries of the universal rules of the rule of law. The court last week rejected an appeal submitted by Kavala, who has been in prison for more than 18 months on charges of trying to overthrow the government.

Other supreme courts like the Court of Appeals, the Court of Accounts, the Supreme Election Council, as well as lower courts are in a similar situation. 

I wish, instead of languishing in Ottoman nostalgia, organising ridiculous ceremonies and surrounding themselves with men in absurd outfits, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his close circle reflected more on the rule of law during the Ottoman period.

It is possible to measure the situation of the rule of law and legal institutions quantitatively by looking at the number of rulings of international courts that say Turkey violated rights and freedoms. Since Turkey accepted the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights in 1989, of the 3,532 rulings the court has made regarding Turkey, 3,128 involved the violation of at least one article of the European Convention of Human Rights. The court ruled on 146 cases on Turkey in 2018; in 140 of those rulings it said Turkey had violated at least one right listed in the conventions. 

Following the rule of law, educational institutions are also failing. Universities, particularly law departments, demonstrate the vicious cycle Turkey is in, with both legal and educational institutions spiralling downwards. 

Not only universities, all phases of education and educational institutions are undergoing a major crisis. There seems no way out from this crisis as the quality of teachers and the educational institutions that train teachers are well below average. 

Education is essential for sustainable development as it increases productivity. Therefore, with both legal and educational institutions collapsing, the economy will not be able to achieve sustainable growth for a long time. 

The administrative crisis is spreading to public finance institutions and the Treasury. The central bank is losing its credibility both inside Turkey and abroad. 

The media is no different. The state-run broadcaster and news agency have suffered a huge loss of credibility and prestige, as have private news channels such as CNN Türk.

In a country where the institutions have been eroding, collapsing to that extent, it is impossible to have a functioning society as institutions are “the humanly devised constraints that shape human interaction” according to Nobel Prize-winning economist Douglass North. And given the prospects for the quality of institutions, Turkey will not have a functioning society for a long time. 

The collapse of institutions will be a problem for generations, creating consequences for the country and the state that might last decades.

Rebuilding all these institutions will be a difficult task.

Whenever the AKP loses power, re-establishing collapsed institutions will be an arduous job. 

© Ahval English

The views expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.