I get tired of writing about horrible things happening in Turkey and the tragic decay of democracy in a once thriving and recently revitalized nation. That’s why it is with guarded optimism that I was pleased to read what might be some of the first good news coming out of that country in over a year. President Erdogan has nearly completed his months long march to vastly expand the powers of the presidency and cement his position as potential tyrant for life, but there was one step left to go. In April there will be a public referendum where the voters will have to approve his bid for ultimate power. Time Magazine is reporting this week that public polling is hinting at a wave of dissent which may complicate, if not entirely end this takeover.
The president’s public bombast belies the fact that with less than two months to go before the April 16 vote, public support for the proposed constitutional revision is lukewarm at best. Even in a country where the pro-government faction dominates the media and authorities jail some political opponents, Erdogan’s victory in the referendum does not look assured. A poll released on Feb. 14 showed the “no” votes beating the yes votes 47.5 to 43.9 percent, with 10 percent still undecided.
The extent of opposition sets up a campaign with the highest of stakes. If the constitutional amendments pass, Erdogan stands to fortify his grasp on power. If the proposal loses, it would deal an embarrassing defeat to Erdogan, opening a new chapter of political uncertainty for the country.
Polling in other nations, particularly Turkey, is notoriously unreliable at times when compared to the at least ballpark measurements we get here in the United States. Still, if this survey is anywhere close to accurate there may be reason for hope.
But let’s assume for a moment that the referendum fails. What then? Is that really going to stop Erdogan? Nothing seems to have slowed his roll thus far. When anyone has opposed his will in the recent past they have found themselves unemployed, locked up in a dungeon or worse. He has been systematically crushing his opponents in plain view of the world with seemingly no cares or fear of any consequences. His party holds a solid majority in parliament. Those in the legislative branch holding opposing opinions have frequently learned that discretion is the better part of valor and gone along with some of his ideas if only in the interest of their own safety and that of their families.
I’m not sure what other options Erdogan will believe he has on the table if the referendum fails, but you can bet he has something in mind. Having come this far, I find it difficult to believe that a person with his penchant for power would simply shrug his shoulders and walk away. Still, if there is sufficient popular resistance there might be time to stop this train before it goes completely off the tracks.
For the sake of the people of Turkey and the rest of the Western world which relies on his country for many affairs in that region, we should all certainly pray that this is the case.