Is Turkey heading toward autocracy?


A referendum in Turkey on April 16 will decide whether the country’s parliamentary system is replaced with a stronger presidency. This is something President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is hoping for, reports suggest:

As reported by the Reuters news agency, Erdogan’s proposed constitutional reform would mark one of the biggest changes in the European Union candidate country’s system of governance since the modern republic was founded on the ashes of the Ottoman Empire almost a century ago.

“Somewhere along, there is the right balance between engagement with Erdogan and safeguarding Turkey’s endangered democrats,” analyst Asli Aydintasbas writes for The Washington Post. “Europe should do more to steer Turkey back to democracy, and in today’s climate, Germany might be the only Western power willing to do that. And after all, Ostpolitik is a German word.”

Turkey’s illiberal shift has left analysts pondering whether Turkey is heading toward autocracy.

“A suit was made for Turkey to fit into at the beginning of the 20th century, but the world has changed a lot since then,” said Nabi Avci, a long-time adviser to Erdogan, citing the collapse of the former Soviet Union, the Arab Spring and other geopolitical shifts. “We are tailoring a new suit for Turkey.”

Using the same top-down methods as Turkey’s founder, Erdogan is remaking the republic as overtly religious and with its ambitions squarely in the former Ottoman lands of the Middle East, said Soner Cagaptay, author of “The New Sultan,” a soon-to-be-published biography of the Turkish president:

“Erdogan,” he said, “is the anti-Ataturk ‘Ataturk’.” ….Now Erdogan needs to legitimize the powers he has assumed in a new constitution, according to biographer Cagaptay, Turkey program director at the Washington Institute, a U.S. think tank. That’s because Erdogan is working with a literate, urbanized electorate on whose votes he depends, and half of which opposes him. By contrast, Ataturk imposed his radical reforms as a 1930s autocrat, a time when 80 percent of the population were farmers and only 10 percent could read. RTWT

“The amazing thing is how easy it ultimately turned out to be to undo the republic,’’ said Soli Ozel, professor of international relations at Istanbul’s Kadir Has University. The rise of populists across Europe will help entrench Turkey’s own brand of nativism, he said.

Turkey’s Failed Coup

Since the coup attempt in Turkey on 15 July 2016, a state of emergency has been imposed, tens of thousands have been fired from their jobs or jailed, and democratic safeguards have been rolled back, say two leading analysts. In “Turkey: How the Coup Failed,” Berk Esen and Sebnem Gumuscu explain how Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) was able to thwart the putsch and consider how the attempted coup and the massive crackdown that ensued will shape Turkey’s future.

Presidentialism has a history of polling poorly in Turkey, so Erdoğan plans to use the postcoup outpouring of popular support to make the changeover happen by early 2017, they write for the National Endowment for Democracy’s Journal of Democracy:

The CHP might try to stand in the way—it is on record as opposing the shift—but it has the support of only a quarter of the voters. Nonetheless, if Erdo¢gan’s push for presidentialism triggers a confrontation, the resulting turmoil could hurt the already shaky economy and corner the AKP government, which might then resort to still more crackdowns on dissidence. The prospect of military rule was averted in 2016, but Turkey’s democratic political institutions remain at risk, and the country may soon find itself faced with another kind of authoritarian rule that will surely prove very hard to end.


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