Networks versus Institutions: Why Legal Institutions Are Political Weapons, Not Democratic Constraints, in Turkey
Andrew O’Donohue, Harvard University
Here is the abstract for the paper that is being delivered: Why do legal institutions sometimes act as democratic constraints—or instead as political weapons? Conventional wisdom holds that when ruling parties are well-organized and cohesive, they are better able to take over democratic institutions and sustain competitive authoritarianism. I instead argue that social networks formed outside political parties, especially during periods of repression, are a key resource that enables illiberal leaders to weaponize formal legal institutions and successfully erode democracy. This article provides theory and evidence showing how social networks shape the behavior of legal institutions by analyzing Turkey under the Justice and Development Party (AKP). Whereas existing research focuses on how populist leaders capture high courts, I show that public prosecutors are crucial actors driving democratic erosion. Leveraging data on the identities of public prosecutors and patterns of prosecutions in Turkey, I show that an extra-partisan social network, bound by political repression, enabled the AKP to weaponize formal institutions and erode democracy. The theory suggests that past repression may contribute to modern democratic erosion and that social networks may explain why formal institutions do not function as written on paper.