Turkey has given a nod to the attempts of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to transform the country’s governance from the current system of parliamentary democracy to a presidential one.
Of the more than five crore votes cast in the referendum, 51.4 per cent voted in Erdogan’s favour while 48.59 per cent opposed his move. With the alliance of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) of the nationalists emerging victorious, a president with sweeping powers will assume office after the parliament elections due in 2019. The post of the prime minister will be abolished and the president will directly appoint the cabinet and the vice presidents. The new president will also have the power to select as well as remove judges and senior officials. Turkey that has been a platform for several democratic and administrative experiments, will thus witness a new governmental system that includes a parliament and president separately elected by the people, after two years.
The referendum and Erdogan’s victory has triggered massive reactions in global politics. Turkey’s political opponents, European Union and some Western countries have already expressed concern that Erdogan was becoming increasingly authoritarian making efforts to expand his powers and that democracy was dying in the country. They had posed the ‘autocracy threat’ even before the referendum. While the country’s main opposition Republican Peoples Party (CHP), pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), the supporters of Fethullah Gulen, whose religious movement was declared as a terrorist group and Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) objected the move overtly and covertly, EU and some countries of the NATO alliance opposed the referendum. Observers in favour of Erdogan admit scepticisms being raised from his own fold itself regarding the new move, by pointing towards the irregularities in voting. Erdogan’s alliance had secured 61.39 per cent votes in the election held on November 1, 2015. However, the opponents cite the ‘NO’ votes from cities and tourist centres in West Turkey as fissures in the alliance.
Erdogan was able to score more votes in opposition centres. The ruling party answers the suspicions of the opponents who cited that the referendum was rigged and that no equilibrium was maintained during the campaigns. According to Turkey, it was the new model of democracy that was revealed through months-long campaign thereby targeting maximum number of votes and through giving an opportunity also for the opposition. However, it maintained that the European nations, that banned the Turkish ministers who took the campaigns to the expatriate Turks, expressing concern in the lack of democracy in the referendum, was ridiculous. Erdogan who won by a narrow majority cites the instance of the Brexit victory, secured by 51.9 per cent votes, to the European neighbours who point out the inappropriateness in him gaining more powers. Citing the many votes in the opposition, he questions the haste in penning an obituary to the democracy.
The opposition as well as their supporters in the West are apprehensive of Erdogan’s move which they say is part of a conspiracy to take Turkey back to the Caliphate era through overall amendment of the constitution by increasing the strength of the parliament from 550 to 600. They say the President would be able to impose his authority on the people as he could get a five-year extension in power after the first term and another five-year term with the permission of the Parliament. They also do not conceal the anxiety when they alleged that the move was a ploy for Erdogan to continue in power till 2034. The journey of Erdogan has so far been without bowing down to the demands of the Europe. Hence, they fear the evolving Turkey – the country being a strategic ally of US and Russia in the Middle East, apart from being the significant outer-power in the Syrian civil war and the key interim-centre of the immigrants flowing to the Europe, if Erdogan tightens his grip.
Erdogan and his supporters question the opposition towards adopting a government system by passing the parliament, and securing the approval of the people through a referendum by deserting a constitution introduced by the dictatorial governments that ruled with the support of military barracks in the 1960s and 80s. They say that the transition was from a president who danced to the tune of the army to a president that comes under the parliament and should only be assessed after observing the nature of the newly formed constitution. Erdogan claims that Turkey has marked the beginning of a reform of taking a sweeping democracy forward by seeking the assent of even the last person among the citizens, overcoming the internal pressures including the army and that the reforms were not a step towards dictatorship, something that lies in the fringes of liberal democracy familiar to Europe. The world is yet to see the outcomes of the latest developments.