The Unbearable Failure of Decentralisation in Turkey

  • Yeseren Elicin Political Science Department, Galatasaray University, Istanbul, Turkey
Keywords: decentralisation, local autonomy, recentralisation, local reform, local democracy


Due to the country’s then drive towards European Union membership, a comprehensive administrative reform agenda had emerged in Turkey during early 2000s. But a brusque reversal of decentralisation reforms followed the 2010 constitutional referendum. The democratic reform agenda adopted in the 2000s
has been overturned to lead to an increasingly authoritarian and centralised power. This recentralisation movement had a direct impact on local governance, triggering a decline of local autonomy accompanied by the dismissal of elected mayors and city council members in some Kurdish-populated cities. The fast
decay of democratic accountability was accompanied by clientelism and corruption. Indeed, modifications to the system of local administration in the direction of recentralisation stem from the determination to strengthen the central state. Embracing an extremely nationalist discourse, on the one hand, the state put
the screws to HDP-ruled municipalities and disqualified mayors-elect in major Kurdish-populated cities. On the other hand, the provision of public welfare as ‘charitable patronage’, redistribution of public resources, and access to public jobs, health services and public housing constituted the major assets of dependency networks created between the AKP and its electors. Taking into account the crucial role played by municipalities in the constitution of these networks, control over municipalities became imperative for the central state. Nevertheless, even in a marginalised local democracy, mayors still have some tools at their
disposal and should put them into service to reinforce and expand democratic rights.