Obsessed with Political Stability

The turbulent 1970s inflicted a lot of pain and suffering on Turkish society. Sharpening class struggle, internal strife and terrorism along with frequently formed coalition governments in the context of economic bottlenecks that were associated with import-substituting industrialization prompted the coup d’état of 1980. The military junta formed by the leaders of the coup curtailed civil rights, repressed wages, persecuted the left and eventually drafted a constitution and made changes in the electoral system. The most important change in the elections were the introduction of 10% nation-wide threshold for the participating parties. The rationale for this was that the previous system allowed too many political parties to enter the parliament, resulting in coalitions that were allegedly a source of instability and ineffectiveness.

One of the arguments put forth by the ruling AKP (the Justice and Development Party) in its election campaigns and in their overall discourse has been to maintain “stability” in the country. For this reason the AKP was never interested in lowering the threshold of 10 percent national vote that eliminates small parties from the parliament. For the same reason, the AKP recently managed to change the regime from a parliamentary one to a presidential one, causing a lot of heated debate, controversy and unrest. The regime change is a relatively new development, and we have yet to see if and to what extent it has contributed to stability, but the election practices have been around for the last few decades, sometimes causing a significant portion of the electorate not being represented in the parliament.

Therefore, a look at the numbers will be useful to assess the argument for “stability.” Granted that this is not an in-depth analysis of Turkish politics, even a cursory examination of it can reveal a lot and give us some insight.

Since the proclamation of the Republic in 1923, 57 governments were formed until 2002 when the AKP won the elections and came to power. Being able to draw a significant amount of support from its voters, the AKP has managed to win consecutive elections, and at the moment it is the ruling party. Since 2002, the AKP, having won several local and parliamentary elections, and including some government shuffling along the way, has formed 8 governments.


Year per Cabinet: The AKP and Others










In other words,  this means 57 governments in the 79 years between 1923 and 2002, and 8 governments between 2002 and 2017. Put differently, a new government was formed every 1.39 years during the former period, and a new one every 1.88 years during the latter period.

Year per Cabinet: Multi-party Period










If we exclude the single-party period (1923-46), Turkey has had 43 governments in the following 56 years (1946-2002), which translates into an average duration of 1.39 years for all governments, 1.30 years for non-AKP governments, 1.88 years for the AKP.

This crude calculation shows that the AKP governments have been able to stay in power somewhat longer than all the previous governments, regardless of all other factors. However, the difference does not seem to be all that impressive, considering that a life of 1.88 years per government still falls short of the prescribed period of four years between elections. Also, considering the increasing terrorism and tension regarding the Kurdish issue, not to mention the economic dire straits that the country is facing at the moment, the question is whether the AKP can be regarded as any more successful in tackling the problems it faces, or its performance and stay in power as an achievement of stability.


Tough Road Ahead

Despite the increasing liberalization of its economy since the 1980s, presented as a reform by the ideologues of neoliberalism and by market fetishists alike, Turkish economy still suffers from serious structural problems, which continue to render the economy highly fragile.

As often stated, the manufacturing sector mostly produces commonplace (one might argue mediocre)  goods that have low value-added, not generating the wealth that would be expected in a thriving liberal economy. One of the problems that seems to continue over the last few decades is the stagnating level of value-added in the manufacturing sector in general. Another difficulty has been the low levels of savings that are well below the world average. Without adequate savings, economic growth will be difficult to achieve unless the gap is closed with foreign investment or borrowing. Interestingly, investment rates have also been lower than the world average, and the country has been unable to attract high levels of foreign investment (whether this is a good thing or not is beyond this purpose of this article) despite a lot of lip service.

A notable weakness in the economy is the fact that the exports have been dependent on the imports of capital and intermediary goods as well as raw materials.  In spite of a continual increase in exports and the emphasis placed by recent governments on bringing them to “record” levels, the manufacturing sector has not reached the technological efficiency or sophistication that would make the country more competitive.

Data: The World Bank
Data: The World Bank

The exports as a share of GDP were higher than the imports as a share of GDP only in 1988, 1994, 1998, 1999, 2001 and 2002 in the 55-year period ranging from 1960 to 2014. In relation with this, the high level of current account deficit continues to be a problem, even though the official rhetoric tends to disregard it.

Clearly, without a structural transformation, the Turkish economy will gradually lose ground, and the country eventually end up in the lower middle income bracket. Unless critical sectors are specified and strategically supported through a mixture of incentives, Turkey cannot avoid becoming peripheralized. As history shows, an underdeveloped economy without direction based on planning and a necessary level of protectionism cannot generate development.

The governing Justice and Development Party that has been in power since 2002 emerged with a clear victory in the elections of November 1, 2015 and faces a real challenge to overcome in the economic sphere.