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Elite Survival Strategies and Authoritarian Reversal in Turkey

University of ConnecticutNational Research University Higher School of Economics, MoscowUniversity of Connecticut

What explains authoritarian reversal and resilience in hybrid regimes? This article derives hypotheses from an in-depth case analysis of Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s rule in Turkey. The Turkish case demonstrates that authoritarian reversal can happen as a result of strategies pursued by political elites to stay in power. Ruling elites in hybrid regimes endure by using the strategies of centralization, legitimation, and repression. During the 2002–13 period, Erdogan and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) were able to entrench their power by eliminating veto players within the state, building a well-organized apparatus for targeted repression, and strategically making concessions to large segments of the electorate. Since 2013, they have changed their strategies for political survival in response to emerging economic and security problems and the ensuing defections of some supporters, which had rendered the original equilibrium unsustainable. AKP elites intensified repression, further centralized power, and relied heavily on an ideological and polarizing rhetoric to delegitimize and splinter the opposition. We argue that this new equilibrium of high centralization, ideological legitimation, and widespread repression allowed the elites to withstand serious challenges to their rule, while significantly weakening the competitive and democratic elements of the hybrid regime. Our in-depth analysis of elite strategies and their adaptability to changing exogenous economic and geostrategic conditions in the Turkish context contribute to the analysis of the resilience and vulnerability of hybrid regimes in general and of where on the regime spectrum they eventually move.