One of the most salient issues our group encountered throughout our adventures was on decision making and who had the final say. In theory, governments receive legitimacy from and reflect the will of the people. While this is true in Turkey, there are certain limits to full democracy within Turkey’s system. First, in order to receive any amount of representation in Parliament a political party must get at least 10% of the popular vote. This system heavily favors the AK party which has amended Turkey’s constitution in favor of the highest electoral threshold in Europe. Certain parties, such as the Kurdish party, are systematically kept out of the Turkish government and their Parliamentary seats go to the winning party.
Not only does this expand the AK party’s power, but systematically shuts out groups of people that have a different stance on certain issues. The worse aspect of the entire process is how much power the AK party, headed by President Erdoğan, has and the way it often demands top-down results. In both the ‘Constructocracy’ lecture and meeting with Zaman correspondent Sevgi Akarcesme, skeptical and disheartened comments on Turkey’s political reality peppered zealous accusations of Erdoğan’s authoritarian like rule. In numerous cases we either heard that the central government, namely Erdoğan, had dismissed Istanbul’s ‘master plan’ and decided to build another mosque, airport, etc. or that the local governments loyal to AKP were falling in line with development plans regardless of previous plans. The perception was that where the AK party ruled Erdoğan got exactly what he wanted no matter the cost. In Izmir we learned from the mayor that this was not true. As a representative of the opposition party, the CHP (Republican People’s Party), he said that though the central government does not completely dictate urban development and that they receive little monetary support in funding efforts that would undoubtedly be more bipartisan.
So yes, authority is vested in elected governments but party politics are always present. Another argument convoluting the dialogue of Turkey’s power structure is that regardless of lack of certain political rights (censorship and attacks on freedom of speech), the average person is more worried about economic stability and providing for their family. The importance of Turkey’s construction sector in providing jobs is not to be underestimated. Though numerous corruption charges were filed against Erdoğan’s ministers, a blatant crime against the state, public outcry has been minimal because of the general good associated with increasing production of urban living space and access to employment. If the media is further prevented from addressing the blatant illegal actions of Erdoğan’s government then the average Turkish citizen will still vote to keep the AK party in power. So who has the power if government can convince you that some political rights are better than none?