Erdoğan win raises dictatorship fears over Turkey

18 Apr 17

Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has won sweeping new powers following a constitutional referendum held at the weekend.


Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan


Erdoğan declared victory yesterday, marking the beginning of what will be the biggest and most controversial overhaul of the modern-day political system in Turkey. However, he won with only a narrow majority (51.4% of voters to 48.7%, with 80% turnout) and amid accusations of voting irregularities and unfairness from the opposition and election observers respectively.

The president said 25 million people had supported the proposal, which was “very significant” as it represented the first time in the history of the Turkish republic that the ruling system was changed through civil politics.

But the Council of Europe – which helped monitor the election, with observers concluding it took place on an “unlevel playing field” where opposing voices were silenced – noted the result was not the overwhelming win Erdoğan had hoped for.

“In view of the close result, the Turkish leadership should consider the next steps carefully,” the council’s secretary general Thorbjørn Jagland said.

He added it was of “utmost importance” to ensure the independence of the judiciary as the president gained unprecedented powers that critics argued effectively create a dictatorship.

The reforms, most of which are due to take place in 2019, will transform Turkey from a parliamentary to a presidential republic.

This means the role of prime minister will be scrapped, with the president taking on both the role of head of government and head of state, and a vice president post is created.

The president will be granted control over ministerial and senior judicial appointments, the budget and the ability to enact certain laws by decree. He or she alone will be able to call a state of emergency and dismiss parliament. It will allow Erdoğan to run for two more terms, meaning he could retain power until 2029. 

MPs, meanwhile, will lose their ability to scrutinise ministers or launch inquiries, although they will instead be able to impeach or investigate the president with a majority vote. 

Erdoğan and the government argue the reforms will stabilise the country, ending the fragile coalition governments of Turkey’s past and consolidating the power to make decisions, which will enable the country to meet its security and political challenges.

As well as wars raging at its borders in both Syria and Iraq, Turkey faces the threat of attack from Islamic State and Kurdish militants from within.

While the reforms’ proponents argued that tackling these required strong leadership that was not hamstrung by potential impasses between the president and parliament, critics decried the move as a step towards further authoritarianism.

Erdoğan has already led a large-scale purge of his opponents from Turkish civil society in response to a coup attempt in the summer of last year. Hundreds of thousands of people lost their jobs or were detained or arrested.

The move sparked concern in the EU around its partnership with Turkey on issues like Syria and the ensuing refugee crisis, and further damaged the country's longstanding bid to join the bloc. 

The European Commission and nations like Germany, which became embroiled in a diplomatic row with Turkey after banning political rallies ahead of the vote for Germany’s Turkish population, raised “grave concerns” again following the weekend’s results.

Both said they awaited the conclusions of an international election observation mission that monitored the process, due on Monday. 

Ratings agency Fitch, however, said that although the erosion of checks and balances in Turkey was a key factor in downgrading the country earlier this year, the change could facilitate positive economic reforms. 


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