Strong Man

17 April 2017

Cogito Ergo Non Serviam

Erdogan Wins Turkish Referendum, Can Rule Till 2029

Turks voted in a referendum that ended yesterday with those favoring a new constitutional arrangement carrying the day with 51.4% of the vote. The new constitution ends Turkey's parliamentary system and replaces it with a presidential one. The closeness of the vote, and the irregularities the opposition cited, suggests Turkey remains a divided nation, but President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will go ahead with his ambition to end secularism in Turkey and be the strong man until he is just too old to carry on.

As with all referenda to concentrate power into the hands of a single man, this plebiscite posed as a matter of constitutional reform. President Erdogan was not asking the people for greater powers for himself. Rather he was asking that the presidency hold more powers than it did under the parliamentary system. The fact that he would get those powers was merely an accident. However, if he had truly cared about democracy, legitimacy and the future of Turkey, he would have included in the new arrangement a self-denying rule that would have prevented him from taking on the new presidency himself. That, of course, didn't happen.

Still, he had to resort to some electoral shenanigans to ensure that he got his way. The preliminary findings of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe were less than flattering. "[The] referendum took place on an unlevel playing field and the two sides of the campaign did not have equal opportunities," the OSCE statement read in parrt. "The campaign rhetoric was tarnished by some senior officials equating No supporters with terrorist sympathisers, and in numerous cases No supporters faced police interventions and violent scuffles at their events."

The main opposition parties are demanding a recount, citing a large number of ballot papers lacked the stamp of the electoral commission. The BBC reports, "the head of Turkey's electoral body, Sadi Guven, said the unstamped ballot papers had been produced by the High Electoral Board and were valid. He said a similar procedure had been used in past elections." That seems to suggest that the HEB is incompetent in being unable to produce enough stamped ballots time after time. The question then becomes whether that incompetence is deliberate.

Mr. Erdogan claims that new constitution makes Turkey's system more like that of France or the US, but it appears to lack many of the checks on presidential power those nations have developed. The Beeb reports, "The president will have a five-year tenure, for a maximum of two terms. The president will be able to directly appoint top public officials, including ministers and one or several vice-presidents. The job of prime minister will be scrapped. The president will have power to intervene in the judiciary, which Mr Erdogan has accused of being influenced by Fethullah Gulen, the Pennsylvania-based preacher he blames for the failed coup in July. The president will decide whether or not impose a state of emergency."

The end of judicial independence is a huge blow to Turkish freedoms, and the ability to declare a state of emergency is a power that needs to be limited in someway. In addition, the president is permitted to be a member of a political party, meaning Mr. Erdogan can formally retake the reins of the Justice and Development Party (AKP are the Turkish initials).

While he claims that he supports the secularism of the Turkish Republic, the truth is that he wants to soften it up, even if he doesn't go all the way in abolishing it. He has tried to create alcohol-free zones in Turkey, to criminalize adultery as per the Koran, and he has ended the decades-old ban on women wearing headscarves in state institutions (except for the judiciary, military and police). He isn't a jihadi, but he isn't a secularist either. And that is bad for Turkey.

© Copyright 2017 by The Kensington Review, Jeff Myhre, PhD, Editor. No part of this publication may be reproduced without written consent. Produced using Ubuntu Linux.

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