Great sultan's dictatorship: How Erdogan's referendum will transform Turkey?

Author : Nadia Koval

Source :

The desire for security and stability in the complicated region in turbulent times won at the referendum with a small margin
23:17, 20 April 2017

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On the night of April 17, Turkey made a choice in the eternal debate between security and freedom.

On a referendum held on Sunday, desire for security and stability in the complicated region in turbulent times won with a small margin.

The arguments of the President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government that the new super centralized presidential system will effectively deal with external and internal enemies, respond to regional challenges and put an end to decades of social instability and periodic military coups, promote economic development and generally allow Turkey to become a leading state region, were convincing enough for more than 21 million Turks, or 51.4% of those who voted.

At least, this is the officially announced outcome of the referendum.

However, international observers have said the voting process was not free and democratic, voters sometimes did not understand what they are voting for, and the government has created the conditions under which it was impossible to conduct a genuine democratic referendum. Especially when it comes to actions that have completely changed the country.

These accusations, however, the country's leadership rejected as politically motivated.

Changes for Turkey

The package of amendments to the Constitution which was voted during the referendum significantly expands the powers of the president.

Turkey becomes not just a presidential republic - President now have virtually unlimited powers in government. And only the prescribed responsibility restrains him from abuse.

Almost from the first years in power Erdogan was teased "Sultan Tayyip". Well, the joke becomes a reality.

Prime minister’s post would be simply eliminated. The President will have direct control over the executive power, will form his own government. Even the legislative power in some areas will not become a competitor to him; he will be entitled to issue presidential decrees that have the force of law.

Since the Parliament in Turkey remains and even increases its number, the reform strengthens the relationship between the president and the legislature: presidential and parliamentary elections will be held simultaneously, and the president will have the right to be the head of a political party and participate in the political process.

Related: Reaction of Germany authorities over Erdogan's slam

In addition, the influence of President to the highest judicial and prosecutorial bodies growing and the remains of the former military influence were destroyed by eliminating two military courts.

As noted in the opinion of the Venice Commission, the proposed amendments are directing Turkey on the path of "autocratic and unilateral regime." Or, if you move away from the legal language: Turkey becomes a Sultanate, but with the election of the Sultan.

No revolution

Of course, the results of the referendum cannot be assessed only through the oppositions "authoritarism - democracy" or "freedom-security".

Thus, the changes adopted by referendum are leading country in the direction of reducing democracy, to some sort of personal authoritarian regime. But in recent years - especially over the last year after the military coup attempt – things have changed a lot in the country without reforms.

The constitutional changes will take effect after the election in November 2019.

In the following more than two years of transition, the things will go according to the old order, but it also doesn’t give hope for strict adherence to democratic standards. 35,000 prisoners and more than 100 thousand dismissed, significant restrictions on freedom of the media and the aggravation of the conflict with the Kurdish minority - all of this occurred in the times of the "old" system.

Under the old system the referendum took place, which gave many reasons to doubt its integrity.

The main opposition force, the Republican People's party announced its intention to appeal against the results of the referendum and to request a partial recalculation. However, the preliminary results were quickly adopted as official, a few protests took place, and Republican leader Kilichdaroglu was more focused on the fact that over 48% of votes "against" - this is a great victory for democracy.

Thus, the revolution is not yet planned.

Moreover, immediately after the referendum the state of emergency was once again extended.

Total mobilization

How quickly the Turkish president will move from establishing the general institutional framework of the new Turkey to some essential reforms – it’s difficult to say. Given the significant number of votes "against", the presence of many current conflicts and social breaks, it may take some time.

Although, the voice of various social groups that opposed the proposed changes, sounded quite loud: when even under a state of emergency and aggressive campaigning 48.7% voted "against".

Moreover, the fate of the referendum was not clear almost to the last moment. Therefore, in the last weeks before the referendum, both domestically and abroad an unprecedented campaign of agitation was launched, with serious money and organizational effort invested: the main political players traveled with performances and speeches around the country and even abroad.

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Turkish ministers and ambassadors, according to Hurriyet columnist Semih Idiz "abandoned diplomacy" and rather rigidly defended the government position. The streets of Turkish cities were full of posters "Evet" ( "Yes"), huge portraits of Erdogan and Prime Minister Yyldyrym, imams in mosques also agitated people and opponents of the proposed innovations complained of serious complications of their campaign and access to media.

Rhetoric reached extreme degrees, state officials announced supporters of voting "Hayir" ( "No"), accomplices of Kurdish terrorists, and accomplices of Gulen (which means possible dismissal and imprisonment for them).

The minimum program completed and now the main task is consolidation of divided nation.

Changes for Europe

So, significant changes in foreign policy rhetoric are visible to the naked eye, and they are likely to have long-term nature.

After all, the escalating of conflict was fueled by both sides, albeit under different circumstances.

For a number of reasons, including the need to maintain an agreement on refugees signed last year, the EU reacted relatively cautiously on the Turkish domestic dynamics, though it was not in a hurry on renewing membership negotiations and giving Turkey the visa-free regime.

Meanwhile, anti-European rhetoric of Ankara was gradually rising, reaching its peak in March with the Turkish-Dutch conflict. It was then for the first time Erdogan said that Turkey could review relations with the EU after a referendum.

If Brussels watched silently over these processes, some Member States did not hide negative emotions. The growth of populism, anti-Islamic attitudes in society and number of centrist parties turning to the right in the EU only increased the differences.

Moreover, understanding that currently Turkey's EU membership is impossible in principle, cut the ground from under the feet of pro-European Turks.

Related: Turkish President Erdogan to visit Ukraine in March-April

The scandal with the Netherlands underlined the depth of the problem and the desire of both sides of the confrontation to achieve electoral results.

However, the direct charges to Europe in "Nazism", categorical rejection of criticism of the European Parliament, the Venice Commission and OSCE (with phrases like "know your place") - all of this goes beyond purely electoral rhetoric.

Ultimately, Erdogan's statement about the restoration of the death penalty in Turkey that was made after the victory in the referendum, while Turkey knows what it is - a red line that can close any membership negotiations.

Ankara emphasizes the value gap with Europe. It seems that Turkey wants to develop relations with the EU "in a new way" - as equals and on a purely pragmatic basis.

And whether it will be enough arguments for Erdogan in this dispute? The answer is not obvious.

Related: Erdogan hopes for a quick restoration of relations with Russia

Related: Erdogan hopes for restoration of death penalty in Turkey

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