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The Rise of the Democracy – Authoritarianism Cleavage and Opposition Coordination in Turkey (2014–2019)

Authors: Orçun Selçuk and Dilara Hekimci

Affiliation: Luther College (Iowa, USA), Florida International University

Organization/Publisher: Democratization

Date/Place: August 10, 2020/UK

Type of Literature: Article 

Number of Pages: 20


Keywords: Opposition Coordination, Authoritarianism, Political Cleavage, Democratic Backsliding, Political Parties, Turkey


The article focuses on the coordination of opposition political parties in Turkey during 2014-2019 as a result of democracy-authoritarianism cleavage. Authors Orçun Selçuk and Dilara Hekimci argue that such division emerges not only in democratic transition but also in democratic backsliding. In Turkey, historically rooted divisions—religious conservative-secular and the Turkish-Kurdish social divisions—in the party-system are overshadowed by the political. The different ideological groups, i.e. secular, Islamist, Turkish nationalist, and pro-Kurdish political parties in their exercise of democracy have muted their programmatic differences and instead coordinated in presidential (2014 and 2019), parliamentary (2015 and 2018), and local elections (2019) as well as a referendum (2017). The mutual coordination undermined the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) parliamentary majority in 2015 and 2018.  In the 2019 local elections, opposition coordination led to an alternation of power in Istanbul, Ankara, and other key cities. The authors appreciate the power-grabbing techniques of coordinated opposition and relate it with a mechanism of maintaining pockets of democracy within a hybrid regime. The authors also highlight the secondary factors that enabled change to election outcomes, including the polarization of voters, the government’s alleged poor management of the economy, the democratic legacy from the Ottoman Empire, and the institutional setting that incentivized coalition-building to surpass the 10% electoral threshold, the 50% requirement to win the presidency, or mayoral elections without a runoff. The author concludes that the ideological labels are less meaningful if the opposition parties compete on an unequal playing field and are unable to influence the centralized decision-making process.

By: Razia Wadood, CIGA Senior Research Associate



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