A New Turkey
Elections are supposed to decide issues.
The vote in Turkey on Sunday has almost certainly not done that.
By a narrow but definitive margin, Turkish voters opted to grant new sweeping powers to their president, abolishing the office of the prime minister and turning Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s formerly ceremonial position into a full-fledged executive one resembling the presidency of the US and France.
“RIP Turkey 1921-2017,” read the headline in Foreign Policy. The magazine argued that the vote ended the modern, secular Turkey established on the ruins on the Ottoman Empire. Instead, Erdogan will now preside like a sultan over the Turkish state. Coupled with his Islamist leanings, his new power should raise concerns about the already shaky future of civil rights in a country that is an important US and European ally, the article suggested.
Erdogan has already earned the mantle of an authoritarian. Turkish authorities have detained 47,000 people and fired or suspended 120,000 people from their jobs for allegedly sympathizing with the failed coup attempt against his regime last summer, Reuters reported.
The vote would let Erdogan fill thousands of judgeships that have been emptied due their former occupants’ alleged associations with Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric now in exile in Pennsylvania. Erdogan had allowed Gulen to fill those seats but “all hell broke loose” when the two men had a falling out, the Economist reported.
Bloomberg quoted an analyst as describing the vote as “a blow to the assumption that liberal or even in some cases hybrid democracies are structured to prevent authoritarian figures from hijacking the political system.”
Many Turks aren’t accepting the changes lying down.
Opposition groups are already demanding recounts, claiming that voter fraud was widespread, the New York Times wrote.
The road ahead is long and fraught. Most of the changes won’t go into effect until 2019, meaning there’s plenty of time for political surprises to complicate the situation.
After the referendum, Turkey is more divided than ever, wrote scholar Simon Waldman in the Globe and Mail.
Waldman noted that the ballot had no question – just a box to tick “yes” or “no” – meaning it was easy to manipulate perceptions of the referendum. Government officials used public money for the “yes” campaign. Public broadcasters and most other media outlets towed the “yes” line. Under the state of emergency that has been in effect since the July coup, officials in Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party could shut down “no” rallies on a whim.
Yet the naysayers won in Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir – the country’s three major cities.
Erdogan appears to have gotten his wish. He’s slated to become the supreme leader of Turkey. But of what kind of Turkey is not yet clear.