By Nachiket Deuskar
On Sunday, April 16, people of Turkey voted to give their president sweeping and authoritarian powers, marking the end of Ataturk’s Turkey.
“Turkey as we know it is over; it is history,” wrote The Guardian as Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the 14th President of Turkey waved to his supporters in Istanbul, tightening his grip over the country.
Turks have voted in an unprecedented constitutional referendum. 51% voters voted in favour of transforming the Turkish Republic into an executive presidency from the existing parliamentary system of government.
The plan was the brainchild of Erdogan. The argument in favour of the change in the system of governance was to stabilize and strengthen Turkey and put an end to a slew of coalition governments that ruled Turkey from the 1960s up to 2002. The plan was supported by Erdogan’s own ruling party the Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi AKP) and their ally Nationalist Movement Party (Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi, MHP), who formed the ‘Yes’ campaign.
The ‘No’ campaign formed by the opposition parties said that it was an attempt at concentrating power in the hands of the president, separation of power and undermining the authority of the parliament. They also called it an attempt to install ‘elected dictatorship’ and ‘democratic suicide’.
The idea was first pitted two years ago, but it did not secure enough support. In January 2017, the Turkish parliament passed several bills enabling the referendum process to take place.
Turkey has over the last decade drifted away from the European Union. After the attempted coup d’etat in July 2016, Erdogan’s government arrested thousands of people who showed a shade of dissent.
Erdogan has previously been accused of intimidating the media, censoring it extensively and was also accused of election fraud during the 2011 General Elections.
Critics have called this the rise of the Erdogan dictatorship. So, is this referendum Erdogan’s way of concentrating and legitimizing the power that he holds?
Here is a list of proposed changes to the system that will help him directly:
- The new system would require a two-third majority to indict the President.
- Endorsement from at least one party which has had 5% votes in the previous election is mandatory for individuals running for president. This will narrow down the competition.
- The President need not terminate his/her party membership. Meaning, the President can officially endorse his/her party position.
- Individuals with close family connections to the armed forces are barred from contesting elections. Possibly to avoid any coup attempt in the future and to keep the armed forces away from power.
- Parliament is required to discuss a proposed parliamentary investigation for at least a month before starting it. This will give the president or any other potentially guilty individual the time to take preemptive measures.
- The length of the presidential term increased from four years to five years.
- Military courts are abolished (except for investigating soldiers in times of war). This means the President cannot be tried under the military court after a potential coup.
- A President’s decree can now be reviewed by the Constitutional Court. However, the President himself/herself will continue to appoint 12 out of the 15 Justices in the Constitutional Court.
- Parliamentary members cannot make proposals to make changes to public expenditure in the Fiscal Budget. This gives the President full control the budget and allocation of funds.
Few days before the elections, CNN reported as to how Turkey was gearing up for the referendum and how many people who planned to vote ‘No’ (against change) were scared to say it openly. There have also been allegations that some volunteers of the ‘No’ camp were wrongly arrested for ‘insulting the president’.
Overseas citizens of Turkey were also allowed to vote in the referendum and opposition parties and hence Turkish parties campaigned in countries like the Netherlands and Germany resulting into an all-out diplomatic row.
But things have not gone the way Erdogan would have wanted them to be. He declared victory on the basis of an unofficial result as the votes were still being counted. His ‘Yes’ campaign seem to have won by a narrow margin securing only 51% votes.
Istanbul, Izmir, and the capital Ankara – three of Turkey’s biggest cities voted against the change, turning their backs to Erdogan.
The opposition parties have refused to accept the outcome of the referendum claiming that the referendum happened in “unfair circumstances” and the Yes campaign had done things illegally.
Erdogan has been showing authoritarian traits, lately. This victory has just confirmed it.
Stamping down Ataturk’s Turkey, it seems as though Erdogan’s reign has begun.