Ümit Akçay – Erdogan’s One-Way Ticket: Authoritarian Consolidation Attempt

On the eve of 2020, we had brought the foresight of “the looming of authoritarian consolidation” to attention. Ümit Akçay proceeds from where he left off, and discusses the concept of “authoritarian consolidation” as well as the current developments to point out the road Erdogan regime is bound to take.   

Ümit Akcay is Associate Professor of Economics, has been teaching at Berlin School of Economics and Law (Hochschule für Wirtschaft und Recht) since 2017.

Cross-posted from 1+1 Forum

The current general belief among a substantial number of AKP dissidents in Turkey is that Erdogan government is running out of steam. However, the foundation of this common belief is often not systematically laid out. More importantly, the idea that formation of two new political parties, which were separated from the AKP, would be sufficient to bring the Erdogan government to an end, became a widespread acceptance in the same circles.

I disagree with this common belief. In this article, I would like to make my position clear about the meaning, components and conditions of the authoritarian consolidation in Turkey, as a continuation of my previous article entitled as “A path to authoritarian consolidation is looming”.

What authoritarian consolidation is not?

Previously, I pointed out that the government’s 2020-2023 strategy may be to consolidate the new regime instead of going to a new early election, and used the term of “authoritarian consolidation” to explain this strategy. Let me begin with two clarifications about the concept.

First of all, authoritarian consolidation does not mean the implementation of the political strategies by the parties that will consolidate their electoral base. The strengthening of the bases of the parties can be a plebiscitary constituent of an authoritarian consolidation. However, what I imply with an authoritarianization process is the one that is closely linked to the structural crisis, a combination of state crisis and accumulation regime crisis.

Secondly, authoritarian consolidation does not necessarily mean a complete elimination of elections or prohibition of all political parties. On the contrary, elections can be an important component of authoritarian consolidation. Indeed, all elections in the structural crisis conjuncture (the post-2013 period) played a critical role in the establishment of the new regime in Turkey.

In the structural crisis conjuncture, it is almost inevitable for a government to lose its electoral support, at least partially. However, a decrease in support for the ruling coalition does not automatically mean the expansion of the opposition bloc. For example, Bekir Ağırdır, Konda Research Corporation’s general manager, points out that the swing voters’ (undecided voters) share rose remarkably in the recent period (37 out of every 100 voters). What is important for authoritarian consolidation is that the decrease in support for the power bloc does not turn into an increase for the opposition.

Components of the authoritarian consolidation

Christian Göbel (2011: 182) defines authoritarian consolidation as “a deliberate state project driven by political elites seeking to secure their ruling position”[1]. Göbel also points out that the ruling classes try to maintain their power by using despotic, infrastructural or discursive power, while the despotic power must be completed with infrastructural and discursive powers in order to complete authoritarian consolidation.

Considering this tripartite separation, the despotic power can be seen as strengthening the repressive apparatus of the state; the infrastructural power can be understood as the improvement of the institutional capacity of the state; the discursive power can be seen as the power of the government to establish discourse, its dominance over the media or, more generally, its capacity to provide ideological hegemony.

When we consider these three aspects of the authoritarian consolidation process in Turkey, it can be easily noticed that the infrastructural power is the weakest one. There are at least three reasons for this. First of all, the state capacity was already weak even before the authoritarian consolidation attempt. This may be surprising to some because of the dominance of the “strong state thesis” which was incorrectly put forward by liberal analysis to explain Turkey’s political economy. Secondly, the institutional architecture of the new regime has not yet settled. The third reason, which is linked to the previous two, is that the state crisis has not been resolved.

Conditions for the authoritarian consolidation

There are two general conditions for an authoritarian consolidation. The first is the continuation of economic growth, and the second is a new consensus that includes the dominant capital fractions on a new accumulation strategy for overcoming the accumulation regime crisis.

There is an additional condition specific to Erdogan administration that is to maintain the current status quo within the power bloc. The current power bloc consists of dominant capital fraction, the state bureaucracy and political parties. The outer skin of this three-footed structure is covered with the nationalist-conservative ideology.

The Erdogan administration’s strategy to criminalize HDP in domestic politics, in tandem with the foreign policy activism in Syria and then in Libya, are being implemented to secure the coherence within the ruling bloc. Yet, implementation of the third condition –to maintain the current status quo– depends on the first two. Therefore, it is useful to have a deeper look at the economic developments.

From “reluctant developmentalism” to post-neoliberalism

By 2015, all the major signs of the structural crisis of the post-2013 period had appeared and the growth model established after 2001 had come to an end in Turkey.[2] Reluctant developmentalism can be defined as ad hoc and incoherent implementation of import substitution measures to reduce external dependency, and the state’s increasing involvement in economy not only through stimulus-driven credit expansions led by the public banks, but also through establishment of the Turkey’s wealth fund.

Gilbert Garcin, “La Tour D’Ivoire”

This state activism, which became more evident in 2016[3], turned out to be a founding element of the new regime by 2017.[4] AKP governments, therefore, developed ad hoc economic policies based on trial and error method, to postpone politically negative results of the structural crisis in the post-2013 period.

The 2018-2019 crisis accelerated the transition from “reluctant developmentalism” to post-neoliberalism. After the currency crisis in 2018, capital movements were significantly restricted in Turkey. The aim of these soft capital controls was to ensure the stability of Turkish Lira. Public banks’ interventions were as effective as the soft capital controls in ensuring the stability of the TL, not to mention the already reduced current account deficit duo to the crisis. Public banks were not only used to stabilize TL, but also to revive credit expansion.

We are yet to see the implementation results of the partial import substitution program announced in April 2019, and the results of other various support packages aimed at reducing import dependency of the domestic industry. What is clear, however, is that by 2020 while the global economic conjuncture allows the Erdogan administration to move forward in the direction of post-neoliberalism, the domestic political-economic conditions almost force him to go in this direction.

One-way ticket

Let me sum up my main arguments briefly. I see the 2018-2019 economic crisis as the last phase of the structural crisis conjuncture, which began in 2013. The structural crisis is an amalgamation of the accumulation regime crisis, which consists of the economic growth model and the mode of regulation of the economy, and the state crisis. Hence, the structural crisis is the defining feature of the post-2013 period.

The change in the global economic conjuncture in 2019 served as a lifesaver for the Erdogan administration. Expansionary monetary policy in the United States made a more rapid economic recovery possible in Turkey. If global economic conditions in 2019 were similar to that of 2018, Turkey would have experienced a much harsher recession.

The credit boom that started in the last months of 2019, which continued into 2020, gave life to authoritarian consolidation attempt of Erdoğan administration. In the future, a new exchange rate shock may damage the government’s strategy. Furthermore, one can argue that the lowering of interest rates by the central bank as quickly as possible posed risks in government’s attempt to consolidate its authoritarian regime. However, the government already took this risk.

In such a conjuncture, the increasing importance of the repressive state apparatus may become inevitable for the establishment of an authoritarian post-neoliberal regime in Turkey. The government seems to have a one-way ticket on this path.

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