Turkey’s Institutions Problem

Turkey has an institutions problem. There, I said it.

The problem of Turkey’s institutions is the following: it’s a country with stronger-than-average state powers combined with weaker-than-average citizens’ rights. To see this, just take a look at the most recent edition of the World Justice Project’s Rule of Law index.



Yes, Turkey is ranked 59 out of 99 countries surveyed, which is rather low, but the interesting devil is in the details. The Rule of Law Index is made up out of 8 categories listed above to the right. These are in turn made up of answers to total of 47 questions posed to 100,000 households and more than 2,000 experts.

The spider graph to the left, where points further out the circle denote higher-quality institutions, also tells us something about the distribution of institutions.

According to WJP, where Turkey’s institutions are relatively strong is in the categories of Order and Security, Regulatory Enforcement, Civil Justice, and (surprise, surprise) Absence of Corruption. Where Turkey is relatively weak is in Fundamental Rights, Constraints on Government, Open Government, and Criminal Justice.

If this is difficult to see from the spider graph, one could also plot Turkey’s values for each category demeaned by the world average:


Alternatively, if we compare the results for Turkey with a set of similar ’emerging countries’, the same phenomenon stands out:


Turkey ranks higher in categories where state power is considered a positive, and lower in categories where state power has the opposite meaning.

Thus the problem is not simply that its institutions are bad, but that they are unbalanced toward state power at the expense of citizens’ rights, executive constraints, as well as openness and accountability.

Moreover, this imbalance appears to be getting worse.

Exhibit A: The World Economic Forum’s international ranking of Judicial Independence, a key component of constraints on government powers. Since 2007, Turkey has fallen from the 56th to the 85th place in 2014 in terms of judicial independence, a rather astonishing change over just seven years.


Exhibit B: Press Freedom rankings from both Reporters Without Borders (RWB) as well as Freedom House. According to the former’s rankings, Turkey has fallen from 99th in 2002 to 154th place in 2014 in the world, just worse than Iraq, and a sliver better than Belarus.


Freedom House’s Press Freedom of the World also shows a similar slide although somewhat more muted. I hesitate to call this the ‘US friendliness gap’ (see here for a pointer), but I’ll let this be something for another post.

Complementing this last graph is the spiraling increases in imprisonment. In contrast to previous years, the post-2006 increase appears driven by long periods of detainment, subsequently ending up in convictions.


In Turkey, imprisonment under anti-terror laws is a particularly authoritarian phenomenon, and ever since parliament (read: AKP) amended an anti-terror law in 2006, the number of individuals imprisoned for terror-related crimes hasn’t been this high since the mid-1990s. This comes despite actual terrorist incidents (as counted by the Global Terrorism Database) being nowhere near the levels seen during that period, as the below graph shows.


Thus, not only does the cross-section look like there is considerable institutional imbalance in Turkey, but there also appears to be an adverse development in key institutions limiting state power, the judiciary’s independence and press freedom.

These graphs paint a gloomy picture for Turkey’s institutional future. A crucial feature of the Acemoglu-Robinson-coined concept of “inclusive institutions” is the existence of strong constraints on the executive. In this sense an independent judiciary can be seen as a necessary prerequisite for executive constraints and, in extension, strong property rights (see here). A free media has furthermore been shown to help inform voters, increase government accountability, and reduce corruption.

As such, Turkey has slid into an institutional imbalance that does not bode well. But how bad has this become already? In order to illustrate this, I went back to the WJP institutional data and pulled out the 47 individual questions for each of the 99 countries surveyed. I then calculated the correlation coefficients between Turkey’s and each of these other countries’ response values. I then ranked these countries by how much their institutions were correlated with Turkey’s own. The result can be seen below, with the ten countries scoring the highest correlation with Turkey in the top graph and those ten scoring the lowest correlation in the bottom graph.

insthigh instlow

These two graphs show the current extent of the institutional imbalance: Turkey’s institutions are correlated with countries that have significant authoritarian characteristics and strong security establishments, some – like Iran, Russia, and Belarus – are international pariahs. Turkey’s institutions are correspondingly uncorrelated with countries that have either rather weak state power (like Afghanistan and Pakistan), or states with significant individual freedoms, checks and balances, and independent judiciaries (like Sweden and Finland). But the extent of Turkey’s problem is clear, as its closest institutional sibling is none other than Russia.

5 thoughts on “Turkey’s Institutions Problem

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