Turkish Constitutional Changes Could Keep Erdogan in Power Another Decade

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses a group of farmers, in Ankara, Turkey, Monday, Nov. 14, 2016. Erdogan has suggested holding a referendum on the future of Turkey's European Union membership bid amid worsening ties with the union.(Murat Cetinmuhurdar, Presidential Press Service, Pool photo via AP)
Murat Cetinmuhurdar, Presidential Press Service, Pool photo via AP

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is getting closer to that dictatorship he has always wanted, as proposed changes to the Turkish constitution could keep him in office until 2029.

“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,” Reuters reports.

Perhaps Erdogan’s AKP Party missed the subtle nuances of American and French limits on executive power, such as not installing presidents for two or three decades at a stretch or not tossing opposition journalists in jail by the truckload.

Erdogan’s opponents, of course, view the proposed constitutional changes 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.”

At least there will still be an election tossed into Erdogan’s path as he marches to dictatorship. The current proposal would make Erdogan the “acting” occupant of an essentially new “executive president” office until 2019, when Erdogan could stand for a full five-year term and then run for another one in 2024 because the constitutional limit on serving only two consecutive terms would be reset.

Other goodies in Erdogan’s power grab bag would include the ability to “issue presidential decrees on most executive matters without the need to consult parliament” and “directly appoint the heads of the military and intelligence agencies, university rectors, senior bureaucrats, and some top judicial bodies.”

Also, the new constitution would evidently remove the ban on Turkey’s president also serving as the head of his political party. As it stands, the president is supposed to renounce party ties, but it doesn’t seem as if many Turks take that bit of political fiction seriously.

“But my opinion is that if a president is disconnected from his party there will be further weakness in political activities in the country,” Erdogan said on Wednesday, as reported by Hurriyet Daily News. “It would strengthen both the president and the party he is a member of if he manages the process and walks this path with the party. More determined and coordinated steps could be taken.”

Reuters’s quick tally of political support suggests Erdogan’s AKP party and its nationalist allies, the MHP party, come up a bit short of the parliamentary muscle they would need to pass the reforms. They currently have 356 seats combined, and 367 are needed for passage.

While some opposition leaders have expressed their determination to vote against the changes, the UK Independent’s analysis finds it likely Erdogan will get the assembly votes he needs to proceed to a public referendum.

Hurriyet quotes Kemal Kilicdaroglu, head of the main opposition party CHP, charging that the proposed constitutional changes would make the Turkish presidency “dictatorial” and charged AKP with “changing the regime of the Republic of Turkey.”

Reuters notes that the pro-Kurdish HDP party also opposes the executive presidency, and “some opinion polls have shown that a majority of Turks also do not want the change,” although Erdogan has gained considerable public support since he survived the July coup attempt against him.

Also, the Financial Times points out that Erdogan has weakened HDP with a series of “midnight raids” in which “dozens, if not hundreds, of the party’s leaders and cadres” have been jailed on charges of supporting the violent Kurdish PKK faction. Even HDP’s leader Selahattin Demirtas is currently behind bars, “slipping handwritten notes out of prison to his supporters.”

“Erdogan’s road map to adopt a new constitution which arms him with full executive power involves crushing the HDP as a political force and maximising nationalist votes for a referendum in 2017,” analyst Anthony Skinner of the Maplecroft risk consultancy told the Financial Times. “Erdogan played the nationalist, xenophobic card in the run-up to the presidential elections and it paid dividends. He is playing it even more strongly now.”

Erdogan appears unmoved by mounting European horror over his march to dictatorship. “What do we expect from people who kept us waiting for 53 years at the door? Let’s not kid ourselves. Let’s cut our own umbilical cord,” he said of the European Union on Sunday.

Al-Monitor thinks Erdogan has the “upper hand” in its bid to join the European Union, despite some EU members calling for Turkey’s application to be formally suspended over his post-coup crackdowns and power grabs.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier visited Ankara this week, and the Turkish government made a point of receiving him without “traditional Turkish hospitality” to demonstrate its anger against the EU, but Steinmeier proceeded to voice support for Turkey’s membership application anyway. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu then declared, “we are fed up with the humiliating attitudes of the EU countries toward Turkey” at a joint press conference with Steinmeier.

This came just days after Austria’s call for suspending Turkey’s EU membership failed at a meeting of foreign ministers in Brussels. It doesn’t look as if the Europeans will be able to scuttle Erdogan’s “executive presidency” before it sets sail for dictatorship.


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