Discussion: (0 comments)
There are no comments available.
A public policy blog from AEI
On Sunday, the Turkish people voted in a referendum to place power in a strong, executive presidency, instead of a parliament and prime minister. Serious questions persist about the legitimacy of election results, and the manner in which the election was carried out. Most analysts assess that the constitutional amendments place Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a strong presidency, without an independent judiciary to check his power.
At this point, however, the most pressing concern for many Turkish citizens is not whether a presidential republic would be the final step in destroying Turkey’s embattled democratic order. Instead, many no doubt voted “yes” hoping that there was some truth to Erdogan’s argument that passage of the referendum was an essential first step to bring peace back to their neighborhoods.
Erdogan argues that a presidential system allows Turkey to streamline decision-making and better address Turkey’s internal and external security challenges. He knows that the Turkish people fear growing instability as a result of Islamic State terror attacks, emboldened Kurdish separatists (PKK), and the challenge posed by the followers of exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen. While some of Erdogan’s supporters may even acknowledge concerns regarding civil liberties, they prioritize addressing Turkey’s security challenges.
Erdogan knows he must distract the Turkish people from his failure to keep them safe. For Erdogan, the referendum on Sunday achieves both goals — at least in the short run.
The problem is, Erdogan’s actions indicate that he understands full well how to secure his hold on power, but doesn’t have a clue about how to improve security for the Turkish people. As a result of the failed coup attempt, and increasing attacks from ISIS and the PKK, Erdogan embraced emergency laws supposedly aimed at stabilization that did little more than shred the Turkish people’s right to a fair trial, freedom of expression and freedom from torture. As a direct response to the coup, Erdogan imprisoned half of Turkey’s generals and thousands of policemen and soldiers. Among those imprisoned were many of Turkey’s most experienced counter-terror officials. Turkey’s bloodiest wave of Islamic State attacks followed, which led to more than 100 deaths in Istanbul alone and a dismantling of Turkey’s tourist industry. A week after another ISIS attack that killed 39 in a popular Istanbul nightclub on New Years’ Eve, Erdogan attempted to distract and project strength by shuttering 83 Kurdish-Turkish institutions. Certainly, none of these measures can be considered a strategy to address broader Turkish security.
In the end, Turkey’s new presidential system, just like Erdogan’s previous measures, isn’t really intended to be a solution to Turkey’s security woes, either. Erdogan sought the referendum, above all else, to gain control over the military – not to ensure Turkey’s security. Turkey’s beloved founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, designed Turkey’s military (which deposed 4 leaders between 1960 and 1997) to step in, as it did last July, if the elected political party strayed too far from secularism. Erdogan’s long-term hold on power hangs on his ability to deconstruct this system. At the same time, Erdogan knows he must distract the Turkish people from his failure to keep them safe. For Erdogan, the referendum on Sunday achieves both goals — at least in the short run. With more power in his hands, you have to wonder: what happens when the Turkish people wish to hold him accountable if the safety of their bazaars, neighborhoods, and restaurants doesn’t improve?
There are no comments available.
1789 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20036
© 2017 American Enterprise Institute