Just as our democratic elections were wrapping up last week we heard rumors that a different sort of transition of power was taking place in Turkey. Aspiring tyrant Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the nation’s president, was spreading the word that he would like to see some changes to the constitution which would effectively remove most limits to his power. At the time I predicted that while the desired changes would be sweeping and transformative, there was actually a good chance he could pull it off.
Sometimes I really get tired of being right. (Business Insider)
President Tayyip Erdogan could govern Turkey until 2029 with expanded executive powers under proposals the ruling AK Party hopes will go to a referendum next spring, officials who have seen the latest draft told Reuters on Wednesday.
Erdogan and his supporters argue Turkey needs the strong leadership of an executive presidency, akin to the system in the United States or France, to avoid the fragile coalition governments that hampered its development in the past.
Opponents see the proposed change as a vehicle for Erdogan’s ambition, and fear it will bring increasing authoritarianism to a country already under fire from Western allies over its deteriorating record on rights and freedoms, especially after widespread purges in the wake of a failed military coup in July.
This is a fairly clever move on Erdogan’s part if you look at it in the cold vacuum of political strategy. Rather than mucking about with asking the Parliament to make the changes (while his party remains slightly short of a super-majority) the request is being put to the people as a popular referendum. That may sound quite “democratic” on the surface, but only if you haven’t been paying attention to recent events in the country. Erdogan has eliminated the jobs of literally hundreds of thousands of civil servants and locked up (or simply disappeared) tens of thousands more who wound up on his enemies list for allegedly having supported the coup earlier this year. That pretty much means anyone who is perceived to have disagreed with him or failed to support the AKP knows they have a target on their backs.
With members of his party monitoring everything that goes on in each neighborhood, how vigorously do you think anyone will be in campaigning against the proposed constitutional changes? Erdogan has sent a clear message as to what happens to people with “the wrong sort of ideas” this year.
The biggest change (if this move goes through) is that he’ll be eligible to remain in office for another sixteen years. Erdogan is 62 years old now, so if you give him until 2029 he’ll be 75. That’s either a ripe old age to retire or, if he doesn’t wish to after two decades of absolute control, who’s going to question him if he wants to stick around the palace for a while longer? There have been some health questions for the president in the past, so this could effectively place him in the role of President for Life in all but name.
I sincerely hope everyone is paying attention to what’s going on with our “ally” Turkey. A nation which had, for a time, begun to look like a real world success story of a transition to open democracy is falling under the shadow of tyranny before our eyes. And the new tyrant is already becoming fast friends with the leadership in Russia, Iran, Cuba, Venezuela and North Korea. If we leave this situation to fester for much longer we will be abetting in the growth of a new axis of evil.