Erdogan secures all democratic avenues that threaten his position in latest referendum
Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is celebrating yet another victory for his agenda over the future of his country. Having risen up the ranks from playing football in the streets of Istanbul’s notorious Kasimpasa district, to becoming Turkey’s first ever democratically elected head of state, Erdogan cemented his spot on 16th April 2017 not only as a leader, but as a man who has finally rid his country from western-backed puppet regimes.
In what was arguably the most crucial polls ever held in the history of the Republic of Turkey, 51.4 per cent of Turkish citizens backed constitutional reforms that will see Turkey transform its parliamentary system into an executive presidency. This means that the office of the prime minister will be terminated, and the role of the president, which was traditionally symbolic, will become more hands-on.
Unlike some reports published in mainstream western media, Turkey is not becoming an Islamic state under the rule of one man. Turkey will remain a republic, constitutionally secular, and will have a multi-party parliament with scheduled democratic elections.
The reforms pave the way for Erdogan to return to the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP), which he founded and led until laws under the existing constitution stipulated that he had to resign in order to assume the presidency in August 2014. In other words, the constitutional reforms that were approved by the Turkish public, albeit narrowly, will make the Turkish political system resemble that which is currently in implementation in the US.
In practice, things will more or less remain unchanged. Although Erdogan officially resigned from the AKP, his influence over the party’s policies never waned. Erdogan himself nominated his original replacement for the prime ministry and the party’s leadership, former foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu. But when differences emerged between them, Davutoglu stepped down, making way for Transport Minister Binali Yildirim to take his place.
Yildirim, who now serves as the soon-to-be-defunct prime minister, is known to be Erdogan’s “yes man” and virtually nothing has been done to hide this fact. Yildirim took on the post knowing full well that his primary purpose after being chosen was to fill the void until the time came to eventually make himself redundant. And that’s exactly what he did by giving the AKP’s backing for the reforms.
So by returning to lead the AKP, the current de facto situation will simply become official. By removing the prime minister from the equation, the reforms will also eliminate coalition governments which often leave the country with two opposing heads of state – a problem that has slowed decision-making in Turkey by keeping the country in a state of political schizophrenia.
Of course, this change in the constitution has not settled well with Turkey’s main opposition, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), which under its present leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu has lost at eight polls since he became the party’s head seven years ago. The CHP’s only realistic chance of ever coming to power was through negotiating its way into coalition governments, but under the new constitution, this will be impossible. Considering that in the last general election the CHP garnered just 25 per cent of the popular vote, a little over half the votes garnered by the AKP, it is also highly unlikely that the CHP will secure a majority in the parliament, at least in the foreseeable future.
The CHP’s core support base comes from staunchly secular Turkish nationalists known as Kemalists, named after the founding father of the Turkish republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Although their ideals, inspired by French laicism, never really filtered down to Turkey’s largely conservative and rural Muslim population, a series of interventions by the Turkish military since 1960 made sure that the Kemalists maintained their influence over the society.
But Erdogan, despite the odds against him, has single-handedly turned Kemalist political dominance over the country on its head. Having once been imprisoned and banned from politics for reading a controversial poem, Erdogan, a former mayor of Istanbul, continued to struggle after his comeback. He survived attempts to close down his party as well as numerous plots to overthrow or undermine him in the form of corruption scandals, terror attacks and military coups.
Each attempt to bring Erdogan down has only made him stronger in the eyes of his supporters, many of whom had their way of life suppressed for decades under the Kemalist regime. Through economic initiatives and investments, Erdogan has empowered the conservative Turkish middle class, which comprises the largest chunk of Turkey’s ethnically, religiously and culturally diverse society. And while his policies on those who fall outside of that category may be subject to criticism, supporters and opponents alike will acknowledge that never in the history of Turkey has any other leader done more to boost rights for Turkey’s minority groups, even if they fall short of the mark.
Critics will undoubtedly question whether there is truth in the graft allegations against Erdogan’s administration, as well as conspiracy theories over whether a failed coup attempt last July was a deliberately orchestrated hijacking of Turkey’s political narrative. It is, after all, their democratic right to do so. There are also serious claims of election fraud during the April 16 referendum. This is due to the Supreme Electoral Board’s (YSK) last minute decision to count votes that were missing the official stamp, which was supposed to be placed on all ballots before the polls opened. Although the YSK said this was a normal procedure that had been used before, the opposition argues that the move was a breach of election rules. Again, it is a democratic right of all citizens to appeal and demand independent investigations into such matters – a right the Turkish government has not denied to its citizens.
Even if the allegations against his administration were true, the current Turkish government would be no more guilty of such crimes than previous administrations, or for that matter, potential alternative administrations today. The difference is, Erdogan’s administration has earned the reputation of being one that gives back to its people. This is not an attempt to justify the alleged crimes, but under such circumstances, the Turkish people seem willing to fight and die for an administration that has relieved pressures from the repressive Kemalist regime that only favoured a minority of privileged elites.
Speculation aside, Erdogan’s popularity in Turkey continues to soar while the Turkish opposition struggles to articulate its concerns to the Turkish people. The CHP boycotted the entire process of drawing up Turkey’s new constitution and opposed the referendum completely. Of course, they had their reasons for doing so, but by putting their principles over politics, they missed another golden opportunity to be involved in Turkey’s political process.
Erdogan may not be the most politically correct leader, and his hands may not be the cleanest. Perhaps in a country where the standards are a little higher, Erdogan might have easily been dismissed as a fringe candidate who would at best be elected as the MP of a small constituency. But so long as the Turkish opposition holds down the bar of competition, Erdogan and his administration will remain in power. For the time being, with no equal in the rival camp, Erdogan seems to have secured all democratic avenues to contest his position.
As for the west, its leaders have the choice to either continue to throw mud on Erdogan for resorting to measures that they themselves are guilty of having used in times of necessity, and thus jeopardise an otherwise mutually beneficial relationship with Turkey; or they can pursue a fair partnership that is based on respect and is free of baseless or hypocritical accusations.
Image from: NPR
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