What Erdogan's fight against bureaucratic oligarchy really means

At the height of debates in Turkey on the country's transition to the presidential system, Recep Tayyip Erdogan was noted to have said: “My biggest enemy in the bureaucracy is bureaucratic oligarchy. Politicians can be as successful as they are in fighting the oligarchy in the bureaucracy. ” Erdogan's words at that time could have been taken as a declaration of war against one of the alternative circles of government that had been taking care of the Turkish nation for so long, without letting the institutions of democracy grow stronger.

Due to the particular path of the country's political development, which began at the beginning of the century to catch up with Western countries in building a national state on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire, such institutions as the army, bureaucracy and courts served for a long time the interests of the Kemalist elites. By the end of the twentieth century, although the influence of the Kemalist party had weakened, important state institutions still remained in their hands.

Under these conditions, Erdogan’s party, which came to power in 2002, was forced to lead the country. The then-announced program of the new leadership of the country to democratize the political system under the auspices of the reforms, on the recommendations of the European Union, first of all tried to dismantle the exaggerated influence of the army and courts on political processes. The rich experience of military coups and subsequent emergency legislation prompted Erdogan and his associates that the attack on the autonomy of undemocratic centers of power should be conducted in conditions of high legitimacy and international support.

It is only by 2010 when Erdogan was able to secure necessary support inside and outside the country: in a constitutional referendum, the fate of the Kemalist establishment was actually decided in the courts and in the army. In 2009-2011, the country was shaken by the trials of current and former high-ranking officers of the Turkish army, accused of planning to overthrow a democratically elected government.

The first 10 years of his time in power, the Justice and Development Party was in close cooperation with the religious movement of Fethullah Gülen. The point here was not even in the common ideological views of Erdogan and Gülen, but in the desire of both by joint efforts to put the entire bureaucratic apparatus under control. The initial backlog of democratic reforms of state bodies, aimed at increasing the transparency of their activities, personnel appointments and expenses, was eventually replaced by a trend towards even greater centralization and politicization.

Politicization of the bureaucracy was a conscious step of the ruling circles. On the one hand, this process increased the control of political power over state resources and the repressive apparatus. For the ambitions of individual Turkish politicians, it was extremely important to have such a significant resource that could be used to suppress former ideological comrades in the fight against the Kemalist establishment.

On the other hand, politicization was part of the government’s strategy for the economic development of the country. In Turkey, an unofficial majority and government contract continues to operate: an increase in the level of welfare of the population in exchange for condescension to the authorities' attempts to establish political hegemony by resorting to semi-legal, not entirely democratic measures. Subordinated to the political will of power, the bureaucracy, forced to act under the pressure of opportunistic interests of the government, must be a good executor of decisions of political power endowed with a democratic mandate.

Today, the rhetoric of the authorities to combat the so-called bureaucratic oligarchy, which is trying to protect itself from the encroachments of the democratically elected government on its interests, is aimed at legitimizing radical measures to clean up the bureaucracy from any source of opposition.

The official propaganda of the authorities about the existence of a threat to the state in the face of individual bureaucratic circles does not correspond to the realities of the processes of the past 16 years. For more than 10 years of being in power, the ruling Justice and Development Party has managed to put its appointees on the ground. The degree of influence of loyal cadres in the bureaucracy on the political processes in the country was demonstrated in July 2016 during a coup attempt organized by supporters of the former ally of the ruling party, Gulen. Finally, with the transition of Turkey in June 2018 to the new political system, the bureaucracy, like the parliament, lost the ability to effectively influence the president.

There is a paradoxical picture. For a long time Erdogan’s popularity was based on his image of a fighter with the remnants of the regime, who for more than half a century tried to force the Turkish nation on an authoritarian model of social development. The collapse of the Kemalist influence in the army, the courts and the bureaucracy was accompanied by promises of the authorities to carry out radical democratic transformations, as a result of which the right to control the government was returned to the people.

Today, Turkey is ruled by an extremely centralized, non-transparent government, which does not shy away from resorting to the suppression of opposition votes. It turns out that Turkey of the beginning of the XXI century has not gone far from Turkey of the past era: the power elites of today are still ambitious in building an ideal society without attention to the interests of the entire population, and not just supporters.

The result of such a policy of the authorities is seen primarily in the context of the quality and worldviews of officials. In the ranks of the bureaucracy, there are noticeably fewer supporters of Turkey’s intensive relations with Western countries. At the same time, people with conservative and strongly pronounced religious views gained considerable weight, which is explained by the intensive recruitment of people from religious tarikats into state structures. Politicization of the bureaucracy with the spread of the idea of ​​electing supporters of the government closed access to people of other worldviews and political preferences. In the actions of the state there has been a shift in the implementation of state policy through domination and suppression, rather than through consultation and consensus.

It is difficult to say how these processes will affect the future of the country, especially the quality of government. However, the symptoms of an increasing crisis are already visible. Recently, the Turkish government entered into an agreement with the international anti-crisis company McKinsey. The agency will provide consulting services to stabilize the economic policy of Turkey. It is alarming that Western companies, branded by Erdogan in the past as part of a global conspiracy against the independence of Turkey, are taking the whole state apparatus of the country under their patronage.

Originally published in Russian: http://www.ng.ru/vision/2018-10-03/5_7324_erdogan.html

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