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.


On Ibn Khaldoun and Comte (out of the clear blue sky)

Turkish politics in recent years has become like a volcano that is constantly grumbling and spewing gases and dust and that can erupt anytime, creating a big tremor with a lot of pain and destruction afterwards.

The president’s recent comments about Ibn Khaldoun and Auguste Comte while receiving an honorary doctorate at a university did not quite shake the country or the world but they certainly did not go unnoticed. He usually dwells on more mundane, or for want of a better term, more current issues delivered in ordinary (read colloquial) but high and mighty language; however, this time what he referred to were not within the pale of Joe Schmo, stirring some debate and bewilderment among the illuminati. He basically stated something to the effect that it was unfortunate that Ibn Khaldoun was given short shrift, and that Comte was problematic. He also added that Ibn Khaldoun’s ideas were almost condemned [to extinction]. From his speech, at least to the extent it was covered in the media, it was not clear how and why he considered Ibn Khaldoun a rather neglected or overlooked figure or how and why he determined Comte was “problematic.” One would expect that such assertions on the two great personalities of history and philosophy respectively should have been supported by solid evidence and scholarly references, considering that his talk was on the occasion of receiving an honorary academic title.
It was also curious that the president referred to Ibn Khaldoun in this manner because he and the party he is a member of often emphasize islamic principles and values that are antithetical to critical thinking and rationalism whereas Ibn Khaldoun was a historian and historiographer that derived his philosophical views within the rationalist tradition perhaps best represented by Averroes (that conservative/sunni muslims usually abhor because he considered reason and philosophy superior to faith and faith-based knowledge). Furthermore, and contrary to what the president claimed, the pinnacles of Western academia acknowledge the excellence of Khaldoun’s work that was not to be equaled for centuries to come. It is also known that the Ottomans that the president and his circles seem to be proud of being descendants of showed great interest in Ibn Khaldoun’s work during the 16th and 17th centuries. The great historian’s magnum opus, the Muqaddimah was also translated into Turkish in the 18th century, indicating that his significance as a historian/philosopher/sociologist was not ignored either in the West or in the Ottoman/Turkish realm.
Following in the footsteps of the “problematic” Comte (and Durkheim) and comparing their significance quantitatively would not be definitive, and more importantly, it would be absurd to do so. Nevertheless a simple and general search on Google Trends, much to the consternation of the president or his speech writer, indicates that since 2004 Ibn Khaldoun (represented by the blue line in the chart below) was on average searched more times than Comte  in the English Language and on a global scale. Measured in the category of Books and Literature, Ibn Khaldoun averages 18 against 11 for Comte. This seems to debilitate the president’s argument. Granted that these are crude methods to compare masters of intellectual achievement that left an indelible mark in the history of human civilization, but such quick and dirty ways of dealing with a problem sometimes can be quite telling (and fun).
Google Searches on Ibn Khaldoun and Comte
The moral of the story is, the president cannot be expected to be knowledgeable about everything; however, it goes without saying that he needs competent advisors.