Erdogan unlikely to last, but damage already done
”Erdogan has divided the country so deeply with his determination to “re-Islamize” Turkey that an attempt to oust him, even by democratic means, could easily end in a civil war.”
By Gwynne Dyer
London Free Press
“The office of the President of the Reich is unified with the office of the Chancellor. Consequently all former powers of the President of the Reich are demised to the Führer and Chancellor of the Reich Adolf Hitler. He himself nominates his substitute. Do you, German man and German woman, approve of this regulation provided by this Law?”
Adolf Hitler’s 1934 referendum, abolishing the office of prime minister (chancellor) and concentrating all power in his own hands, was the final step in consolidating his control of Germany. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has just won a referendum abolishing the office of prime minister and concentrating all power in his own hands, is not another Hitler, but he is starting to look like another Putin.
He didn’t win his referendum by Hitler’s 88 per cent majority, of course. He didn’t even win it by the narrow 52-48 per cent that decided the United Kingdom’s Brexit referendum last June. He only got 51.3 per cent of the vote, against 48.7 per cent for keeping Turkey’s existing parliamentary system. But it’s still a victory, and if Erdogan can go on winning elections, he could have almost absolute power in Turkey until 2029.
He can certainly go on winning elections for a while because his support is rock-solid among the half of the population who felt oppressed by the secular state created by Ataturk almost a century ago. His Islamism is the main source of his political support, and the devout will go on voting for him no matter what he does. You almost wonder why he bothered with this referendum.
He already has almost absolute power in practice. Since the attempted coup last July, the country has been under a state of emergency. The government controls almost all the mass media. About 150 journalists, 13 members of parliament and at least 45,000 other people are under arrest, and upwards of 130,000 — academics, judges, police, teachers and civil servants — have been fired on suspicion of disloyalty.
With those who urged “no” to the constitutional changes being publicly denounced as coup-plotters, traitors and terrorists, it’s remarkable almost half the population still dared to vote against Erdogan’s plan.
He can dismiss parliament, enact laws by decree, declare a state of emergency and directly appoint senior officials and judges. He can be a democratic leader if he wants, but he can also be a dictator if he likes.
It is a pity, for Turkey was turning into a genuinely democratic country. Five years ago there was still a free press, civil liberties were generally respected, the economy was thriving and the country was at peace. And much of this was at least partly due to Erdogan’s own efforts.
The few remaining free media outlets are under siege, civil rights are a joke, the economy has plunged into recession, and the country is at war. And this is mostly Erdogan’s fault.
At least 2,000 people have died in the war against Kurdish separatists in the past year, and 500 have been killed in terrorist attacks in the big cities. Ordinary Turks are shaken by all the violence, and at least half of them clearly don’t buy Erdogan’s explanation that evil foreigners who hate Turks are to blame for it all. Unfortunately the other half, mostly pious, rural, and/or ill-educated, believes it all and sees him as the country’s saviour.
Erdogan is unlikely to last until 2029: the failing economy and the wars will gradually drag him down. But he has divided the country so deeply with his determination to “re-Islamize” Turkey that an attempt to oust him, even by democratic means, could easily end in a civil war. What has happened to Turkey is a tragedy, and it’s hard to see a safe way back.
Gwynne Dyer is an independent journalist based in London, England.