Parliamentary Democracy on the Verge of Authoritarianism

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Parliamentary Democracy on the Verge of Authoritarianism


This article explains the history of democracy, the development of the political and social sides of parliamentary democracy with the difficulties of settlement and institutionalisation of this tradition. The separation, unification and concentration of powers are scrutinised in its significant political model: parliamentary democracy. In addition, while the article explains the reasons behind the transformation of pluralism to majoritarianism and its dilemmas, it also analyses the constitution of a country, electoral rules and the law of political parties and problems from this perspective.


The history of democracy has had its ups and downs throughout its development. Since the ancient Greece, many different experiences of direct and representative democracy with different qualities and sizes, controversial qualities and quantities have occurred. In the historical process where democracy has created ideal models or it has become a tyranny, there has been a transition to a representative democracy with its citizens to participate in the administration through their representatives, from a direct democracy in which citizens partakes without any representative. These experiences have evolved into pluralistic democracy and different types of democracy.

There are several turning points to the establishment of a political power, its usage, sharing and fall in the history of democracy. Nevertheless, the most impressive one which is the limitation, control and the restriction of the absolute power with a constitutional social contract happened in England. The history of democracy is full with examples where the power is concentrated in the hands of one and the power is deteriorating.

Looking at the way of the formation of political power, the experience of representative democracy has proved itself with all those models that it created. These models are known with their loyalty to ‘representation and legitimisation.’ While this model develops reflexes to avoid the assembly of absolute powers, it also defends itself against financial oligarchy. For the maintenance of the democracy and the presence of the parliament, a strong civil society and individuals has to reinforce parliamentary representative democracy.

The most important milestone of the limitation of absolute power and the incorporation of the relations between government-society-individual into a social contract is the Magna Carta Libertatum in England, 1215, ‘The Big Declaration of Independence.’ Magna Carta limited the endless power of the absolute monarchy and has become the fundamental basis of today’s law system, with respect to content of its article 39.[1] According to this law, “No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land.”

This statement still refers a significant quest in countries that seek to become a state of law. This document which is an important point of resistance against the power of absolutism has helped to the constitutional culture that has assisted the establishment of parliaments.

When we look at our own history of democracy, “Sened-i İttifak” is a document that carries a similar meaning as the Magna Carta. This document is an important written document and agreement that limits the power of the absolute sultanate. The Sened-i İttifak, is a document that is signed by the Rumelian and Anatolian notables that were gathered by the Ottoman Grand Vizier Alemdar Mustafa Pasha on 29th of September, 1808.[2] Constitution legists acknowledge this document as the first constitutional document in history of Turkey and consider it as the beginning of the constitutional movements in Turkey.

While there have been several examples of written social contracts, the history of democracy and the constitutional movement embrace these two documents as indispensable agreements against absolute monarchy. Throughout Turkey’s history, there has been a shift to a parliamentarian era from the Ottoman constitutional monarchy experience with the republic. After the republican era where the parliamentary government and the parliament were dominant, a multi-party system was installed with the push of the global conjuncture after the second world war. The process of parliamentarian democracy that has been interrupted by coups had its ebbs and flows until today.

The most important reason why Turkish parliamentary democracy could not completely be institutionalised and intensified after memorandum and coups d’état, is because constitutions that were written under the impact of coups d’état were not radically amended. The fact that a brief, concise, simple and consistent constitution was not established and it prevented parliamentary legitimacy and the democratic legal system from deepening.

During the process of the research of parliamentary democracy, electoral rules and political parties that were established after the coup constitutions have negatively affected the reflection of the civil will onto the process of taking political decision. Particularly the electoral threshold anxiety has led to many injustices in representation and has led to the generation of autocratic pluralist composition and institutions. Pluralism turning into majoritarianism led to the concentration of powers at one hand, more than that, led to a pollution of power with the weakening of the control and supervision mechanisms. Similarly, in this context, the fact that legal system of political parties that are known as irrevocable institutions of the democratic life, is not democratic and it lacks democracy in its members, organisations, programs and constitutions have prevented will of electorate from contributing to establish a qualified parliament.

Parliamentarian democracy experiences many troubles all over the world as well as in Turkey. Democratic mechanisms are insufficient in the establishment of new institutions and in reflecting social and political changes to the administration mechanisms. The most serious difficulty that Turkey has faced is that problems stemming from electoral rules have turned into political instability, political crisis and stalemate. Turkey’s current electoral rules prevent the establishment of a new alternative by ensuring the continuity of classical party model. While this model hinders translation of new social movements into a political party, it also leads the parliamentary democracy to fall as a hostage to hegemonic party system by strengthening the autocratic tendencies and structures.

The containment of other administrative mechanisms by the leading political party will lead to the unification of the separated powers, also bring about the absolute control over judiciary and other administrative apparatus. The most important problem in this process is the re-self creation of an oligarchic administrative class since it will eliminate the possibility of government changeover.

The creation of self-defence responses against autocratic tendencies by the parliamentary democracy, and opening its horizon to new flows, understanding and institutions will lead itself to become functional. Today the major problem with the parliamentary democracy is that the new identities that are out there in the public realm cannot find an environment to express themselves. Our century is a time period where new ethnic, religious and faith communities –other than classic, political and social profiles–, attempt to express themselves in the public realm. The fact that parliamentary democracy is opening up all its channels to micro political, sociologic, religious groups will prevent tendencies for autocracy by strengthening its legitimacy.

In addition, parliamentary democracy may deepen its legitimacy by synthesising itself with the radical democracy. Radical democracy, by its nature, recognises the relation between identity and divergence, aims for the reconciliation of dissimilarities but also does not them to turn into a hegemonic relation.

Today the parliamentary democracy is under threat of two significant powers. We experienced the first one in the recent economic crises in Europe. Technocratic measures taken in Italy and Greece by the troika trilogy led to the intervention of extreme market-oriented system over all political and economic domains of parliaments. The second issue is the comeback of autocracy with the concentration of power under such forms of presidential, semi presidential etc. systems. Other phase of the second threat is that ruling power mechanism shuts itself to a certain political dogma for a long time under the impact of autocratic populism and sociological dictate. The most concrete example of this happening in Russia where Putinism has evolved into hegemon (dominant) party system that created TANDEM regime.[3] Another solid example is seen in Turkey where hegemon party system has slid into the majoritarian channel of the Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (Justice an Development Party) (AKP) in which quarrel over presidentialism and/or semi presidentialism that blocks all political processes takes place.

Difficulty that parliamentary representative democracy faces in developing self- preservation reflex mechanisms against autocratic tendencies and trends, has increased in Turkey due to the presence of weak civil society and individuals. Past coalition experiences and the fact that government could not be established for long time prevented reform over the law on political parties and electoral law for the sake of ‘administrative stability.’ It caused ‘injustice in representation’ due to the high electoral threshold. Furthermore, sociological dictatorship setting where power gets concentrated and thus degenerated with the transformation of pluralism into majoritarianism has arisen. The fact that policy-makers could not solve and manage political crises together with the supremacy of populist and false understanding in economies has led to the intervention of financial oligarchy on parliaments.  For the prevention of these situations, parliamentary representative democracy which has proven itself as the best indicator of will of citizens against dictatorial and despotic tendencies, has to develop self-protection responses. More importantly, it has to take a mission to create a democratic ecosystem which is predicated on strong civil society and where individuals and civil society can thrive.

Cihan Aydın

Please cite this publication as follows:

Aydın, C. (December, 2015), “Parliamentary Democracy on the Verge of Authoritarianism” Vol. IV, Issue 12, pp.51-56, Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (Research Turkey), London, Research Turkey (


[1] Magna Carta Libertatum, The Great Freedom Charter, is the main document of constitutional democracy signed by the King of the United Kingdom, John; Cardinal Stephen Langton and barons in 1215 in England. In this document, the King restricted his authority for the first time and allowed the public some rights as well as freedom.

2 Sened-i İttifak: An agreement signed between the Grand Vizier Alemdar Mustafa Pasha and the Rumelian and Anatolian notables on the 29th of September, 1808. Constitutional legal experts consider this document as the first document of a constitution in Turkey’s history.

[3] TANDEM: It is used for a bike for two and paragliding. It means that something that should be done by one person is carried out by two persons. In this study, leadership tandem refers to the alternate popular authoritarianism built by Putin and Medvedev in Russia. It is a tandem of presidentialism and prime ministry.



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