In their monumental work Competitive Authoritarianism (2010), Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way insist that a high level of Western linkage guarantees democratization. However, according to recent research by Freedom House, the democratic conditions of several EU member countries such as Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary, and Latvia, and the EU candidate country, Turkey, are backsliding. The aim of this article is to examine why these countries have experienced a deterioration of democracy in recent years, with specific focus on the case of Turkey.
After being recognized as an EU candidate in 1999, Turkey implemented eight harmonization packages and two constitutional amendments. The Justice and Development Party (JDP), known as pro-Islamic party, is one of the main actors supporting Turkey’s accession to the EU. From 2002 to 2005, the JDP earnestly pursued democratic consolidation in line with the EU accession process, in order to establish its legitimacy in both internal and external politics. The EU accession process also benefited the development of civil society in Turkey, and guaranteed the country’s democratization. However, after 2005, when Turkey formally became an EU candidate country, the EU accession process stagnated because of harsh opposition from several EU member states, such as the Republic of Cyprus and France. In addition to such opposition, the JDP chose to enforce the accession process in the manner of civil-military relations or religious freedom;consequently, Turkey’s democratization has gradually slowed. The range of civil society activity has also diminished. This trend became more apparent after 2011, when the JDP won its third general election. The most symbolic manifestation of Turkey’s democratic backsliding was the Gezi protest in May and June of 2013. Initially the protesters aimed to protect a historical park from redevelopment, but harsh response from the police provoked them to change their focus to direct criticism of the JDP and then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Another impetus for this change was the frustration of secular civil society, including ordinary citizens, with the JDP’s domination of Turkey’s politics.
The body of this article is divided into three parts. The first is a summary of the works of Levitsky and Way, and Jacob Tolstrup, who introduces the concept of the “gatekeeper” as an intervening variable of the relations between Western linkage and democratization. The second part is an explanation of how the JDP led the EU accession process, the EU’s internal opposition to Turkey’s accession, and the development of Turkey’s civil society. The third part covers Turkey’s democratic backsliding, especially the Gezi protest. Finally, this article clarifies that the JDP’s political speculation is a definitive factor in consolidating democracy in Turkey and suggests a revised analytical framework for external links and democratization.