Columns 24.4.2017 07:03 am

Erdogan is starting to look like another Putin

AFP/File / Eric Feferberg<br />Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) jets into Russia on August 9, 2016, for a meeting with his counterpart Vladimir Putin

AFP/File / Eric Feferberg
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) jets into Russia on August 9, 2016, for a meeting with his counterpart Vladimir Putin

He has divided the country so deeply with his determination to ‘re-Islamise’ Turkey that an attempt to oust him could easily end in a civil war

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? 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 Vladimir Putin.

He didn’t win his referendum by Hitler’s 88% majority. He didn’t even win it by the narrow 52%-48% majority that decided the United Kingdom’s Brexit referendum last June. He only got 51.3% of the vote, against 48.7% 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. 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 – 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 that almost exactly half the population still dared to vote against Erdogan’s plan. He can dismiss parliament whenever he likes.

He can enact laws by decree. He can declare a state of emergency. He can directly appoint senior officials and judges (handy, given the evidence of massive corruption in his inner circle that emerged in 2013). He can be a democratic leader if he wants, but he can also be a dictator if he likes.

All the checks and balances are gone. It is a great 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. However, democracy, as Erdogan once famously said, “is like a train. You get off once you have reached your destination.” He was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. 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-Islamise” 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

Gwynne Dyer


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