Recep Tayyip Erdogan: Reinventing Democracy and Good Governance in Turkey
It is the belief of some analysts that Islam is incompatible with modern governance system otherwise called democracy. This misconception has been consistently proven wrong looking at the giant strides of nations like Malaysia, United Arab Emirate and Turkey. The focus of this article is Turkey and the glittering achievement of Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Conceptually, the term democracy comes from the Greek word ‘Dēmokratía’ meaning “rule by the ordinary people or commoners”. Democracy as a governance system emerged in classical Athens and Rome as a reaction to the phenomenon of abuse of power and tyranny by the rulers. The voice of the common people therefore checkmated the excesses of the kings and rulers at the given period. The essential elements of democracy wherever it is practised as a way of life are separation of powers, basic civil rights/human rights, religious liberty and separation of religious institutions and state. In some countries, religion was castrated and rendered prostrate to embed the ethos of democracy in the name of secularism. This is not the case with modern Turkey under Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He reinvented Democracy and Good Governance in Turkey. Who is this worthy personality? What are his achievements? What are the lessons Nigerian and African leaders could learn from him?
The development and progress of Turkey especially in the last two decades centred around Recep Tayyip Erdogan – a man with exceptional passion, vision, leadership and intellectual capacities. He is presently the President of the Republic of Turkey. Previously he had served as the Prime Minister of Turkey from 2003 to 2014.
In retrospect, Erdogan was born on 26th February, 1954, and he spent his early childhood in Rize, where his family originates from. He was brought up in a Muslim family that was conscious of its religious duties. He graduated from Kasımpaşa Piyale Primary School in 1965 before moving on to İmam Hatip School, which is a religious vocational high school. Thereafter, he got his high school diploma from Eyüp High School. He proceeded to study Business Administration at the Aksaray School of Economics and Commercial Sciences which is now known as the Marmara University’s Faculty of Economics and Administrative Sciences.
Following the 1980 military coup, Erdogan moved along with most of Necmettin Erbakan’s followers into the Islamist Welfare Party. In this party, he became the Beyoglu district chair in 1984. In 1985, he became the chair of the Istanbul city branch. He was elected to parliament in 1991 but was not allowed to take his seat.
Erdogan was elected Mayor of Istanbul in the local elections of 27th March, 1994. Even though many feared that he would impose Islamic law, he used his energy in solving serious problems in Istanbul. These problems included water shortage, pollution and traffic chaos. The problem of water shortage was solved with the laying of hundreds of kilometres of new pipelines while the garbage problem was solved with the establishment of state-of-the-art recycling facilities. He reduced air pollution through the adoption of the use of natural gas and the public buses were changed to environmentally-friendly ones. With the construction of fifty bridges, viaducts and highways, the city’s traffic and transportation jams were reduced. He also prevented corruption by using measures to ensure that municipal funds were used in a justifiable manner. He paid back a major portion of Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality’s two billion dollar debt and invested four billion dollars in the city. President Erdogan demonstrated political innovativeness by initiating the first roundtable of mayors during the Istanbul Conference. This led to a global, organized movement of mayors. Owing to this and many more, the United Nations unanimously awarded Erdogan the UN-HABITAT award.
In 2001, Erdoğan established the Justice and Development Party (AKP) which went ahead to win a landslide victory in the 2002 election by taking nearly two-thirds of the seats. Even though he could not become Prime Minister as he was still banned from politics by the judiciary for his speech in Siirt, Gul became the Prime Minister instead. Come December 2002, the Supreme Election Board cancelled the general election results from Siirt due to voting irregularities and scheduled a new election for 9th February, 2003. By this time, he was able to run for parliament due to a legal change made possible by the opposition Republican People’s Party. He represented the AKP and won and thereby becoming the Prime Minister after Gul handed over the post.
In 2009, Erdogan tried to end the long Turkey–Kurdistan Workers’ Party conflict that had cost thousands of lives. His plan, which was supported by the European Union, allowed the Kurdish language to be used in all broadcast media and political campaigns, and restored Kurdish names to cities and towns that had been given Turkish ones. Erdogan also passed a partial amnesty to reduce penalties faced by many members of the Kurdish guerrilla movement PKK who had surrendered to the government. On the 23rd of November 2011, during a televised meeting of his party in Ankara, he apologised on behalf of the state for the Dersim massacre, where many Alevis and Zazas were killed.
The far-reaching powers of the 1991 Anti-Terror Law were reduced and the Democratic initiative process was initiated. This was done with the aim of improving the democratic standards in general and the rights of ethnic and religious minorities in particular. In 2011, Erdoğan’s government made legal reforms to return properties of Christian and Jewish minorities which were seized by the Turkish government in the 1930s. The total value of the properties returned reached $2 billion.
Erdogan also tightened the laws on the sale and consumption of alcohol, banning all advertising and increasing the tax on alcoholic beverages. A law raising the legal drinking age from 18 to 24 was in place from 2011 till 2013 before it was abolished.
In 2002, Erdogan inherited a Turkish economy that was beginning to recover from a recession as a result of reforms implemented by Kemal Derviş. Erdoğan supported Finance Minister Ali Babacan in enforcing macro-economic policies. Erdoğan tried to attract more foreign investors to Turkey and lifted many government regulations. The cash-flow into the Turkish economy between 2002 and 2012 caused a growth of 64% in real GDP and a 43% increase in GDP per capita. The average annual growth in GDP per capita was 3.6%. The ranking of the Turkish economy in terms of GDP moved slightly from 17 to 16 during this decade. A major consequence of the policies between 2002 and 2012 was the widening of the current account deficit from 600 million dollars to 58 billion dollars.
Erdogan’s government became the first Turkish government to satisfy the budgetary and market requirements of the IMF and consequently received every loan instalment. Even though Erdogan inherited a $23.5 billion IMF debt, he reduced the amount to $0.9 billion by 2012. He decided not to sign a new deal and Turkey’s debt to the IMF was declared to be completely paid. In 2010, five-year credit default swaps for Turkey’s sovereign debt were trading at a record low of 1.17%, below those of nine EU member countries and Russia. The Turkish public debt as a percentage of annual GDP declined from 74% in 2002 to 39% in 2009. In 2012, Turkey had a lower ratio of public debt to GDP than 21 of 27 members of the European Union and a lower budget deficit to GDP ratio than 23 of them.
The Turkish Central Bank had $26.5 billion in reserves in 2002 but this later reached $92.2 billion by 2011. Inflation also fell from 32% to 9.0% in 2004.
Labour reforms through the passage of the Labour Act in 2003 led to a comprehensive change of Turkey’s labour laws. The law greatly expanded the rights of employees, establishing a 45-hour work-week and limiting overtime work to 270 hours a year, provided legal protection against discrimination due to sex, religion, or political affiliation, prohibited discrimination between permanent and temporary workers, entitled employees terminated without “valid cause” to compensation, and mandated written contracts for employment arrangements lasting a year or more.
Erdogan increased the budget of the Ministry of Education about four and a half times from 7.5 billion lira in 2002 to 34 billion lira in 2011. This became the highest share of the national budget given to a single ministry. Compulsory education was increased from eight years to twelve. In 2003, the Turkish government, together with UNICEF, started a campaign called. The “Come on girls, let’s go to school!” campaign which was supported by the UNICEF was to close the gender-gap in primary school enrolment through the provision of a quality basic education for all girls, especially in south-east Turkey.
In 2004, textbooks became free of charge and since 2008 every province in Turkey has its own university. The number of universitiesnearly doubled from 98 in 2002 to 186 in October 2012.
Erdogan kept his campaign promises by starting the f@tih project in which all state schools, from pre-school to high school level, received a total of 620,000 smart boards, while tablet computers were distributed to 17 million students and approximately one million teachers and administrators.
Erdogan’s government increased the number of airportsfrom 26 to 50. It is remarkable to note that in 79 years after the founding of the Republic in 1923 till 2002, there were 6000 kilometres of dual carriageway roads compared to 13,500 kilometres of expressway that were built between 2002 and 2011, a period of just nine years. Due to these measures, the number of motor accidents fell by 50 percent. For the first time in Turkish history, high speed railway lines were constructed, and the country’s high-speed train service began in 2009. In 8 years, 1,076 kilometres of railway were built and 5,449 kilometres of railway were renewed. The construction of Marmaray, an undersea rail tunnel under the Bosphorus Strait, started in 2004, and when it is completed, it will be the world’s deepest undersea immersed tube tunnel. Construction of the 1.9 km long Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge began in 2013.
Erdogan supported the continuation of Turkey’s high population growth rate and, in 2008, commented that to ensure the Turkish population remained young every family would need to have at least three children. He repeated this statement on numerous occasions. In 2010, Turkey’s population was estimated at 73,700,000, with a growth rate of 1.21% per annum.
An overhaul of the Turkish healthcare system called the Health Transformation Programme (HTP) was initiated in 2003. This greatly increased the quality of healthcare and protected all citizens from financial risks. Its introduction coincided with the period of sustained economic growth, allowing the Turkish government to put greater investments into the healthcare system. As part of the reforms, the “Green Card” programme, which provides health benefits to the poor, was expanded in 2004. The reform programme aimed at increasing the ratio of private to state-run healthcare, which resulted in the rise of private medical care in Turkey and forcing state-run hospitals to compete by increasing quality.
Erdogan was also instrumental in evolving a social security reform package which unified Turkey’s three social security bodies under one roof, bringing equal health services and retirement benefits for members of all three bodies. The previous system had been criticized for reserving the best healthcare for civil servants and relegating others to wait in long queues. Under the second bill, everyone under the age of 18 years was entitled to free health services, irrespective of whether they pay premiums to any social security organization. The bill also envisages a gradual increase in the retirement age to 65 years for both men and women. Under Erdogan, the Turkish Parliament also adopted a law banning smoking in most public places.
This article is written by Dr. Raimi, L. MNIM, FAAE, FCEnt
Dr. Raimi Lukman writes from Lagos. He is a Senior Lecturer & Professional Trainer at Centre for Entrepreneurship Development (CED), Yaba College of Technology, Lagos Nigeria. He is also the President of The Muslim Congress (Nigeria)