Representation, Paternalism, and Exclusion: The Divergent Impacts of the AKP’s Populism on Human Rights In Turkey


Publish Date:
April, 2020
Publication Title:
Human Rights in a Time of Populism: Challenges and Responses
Cambridge University Press
Place of Publication:
Cambridge, UK
  • Gerald L. Neuman
Book, Section
  • Jamie O'Connell, Representation, Paternalism, and Exclusion: The Divergent Impacts of the AKP's Populism on Human Rights In Turkey, in Human Rights in a Time of Populism: Challenges and Responses, Gerald L. Neuman, ed., Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.


Turkey provides an unusual opportunity to observe how populists affect human rights when they govern a large electoral democracy for a prolonged period. This chapter introduces a tripartite framework for analyzing the impact of populism on human rights, and applies it to Turkey. “Representation” involves expanding the role of previously marginalized groups in politics and their influence on public policy. “Paternalism” describes populists’ arrogation of the right to identify the interests of “the people” for whom they claim to speak, rather than consider citizens’ actual preferences. “Exclusion” refers to populists’ marginalization from politics, and often broader repression, of groups they define as enemies of the people.

The reign of Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) since 2002 illustrates these dynamics and suggests hypotheses about the relationship between populism and human rights that could be tested by studies of other countries. The AKP initially advanced representation by reducing the political power of the military and moderating the judiciary’s enforcement of secularism. This somewhat enhanced the power of ordinary citizens in general and in particular of conservative, religious Turks, whose preferences arguably had been under-weighted. The other two dynamics, paternalism and exclusion, undermined human rights, however. AKP leaders’ belief in a homogeneous popular will motivated, or helped them justify, paternalistic disregard for their constituents’ views, undermining democratic representation. Since at least the 2014 Gezi Park protests, populism’s exclusionary logic has contributed to the AKP’s assault on democratic institutions and norms. The party has dismantled almost every check on its power and neutered all rivals, bringing Turkey to the brink of dictatorship. In the process, it has eviscerated civil and political rights and brutally repressed hundreds of thousands of Turks.