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Democracy Loses in Turkey

April 18, 2017
Plain English Version

A supporter of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan held a picture of the Turkish leader at a rally on Sunday in Istanbul. Credit Ozan Kose/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

American voters elected Donald Trump as President. British voters chose to leave the European Union.

Turks voted to change the way their government works. They amended their Constitution. The next president will have sweeping powers. Gone are the familiar ‘checks and balances’ of the past.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan is the president. He intends to be the next president.

The new system will allow the president:

  • To issue decrees;
  • To appoint the judges who will review his decisions;
  • To control the civil service.

In other words, the president will control the government. The new rules limit the presidency to two five-year terms. He can have a third term if Parliament agrees.

President Erdogan now runs the country. There was a failed coup in Turkey last summer. Erdogan put Turkey in a state of emergency. He fired or suspended about 130,000 people from work. The government has arrested about 45,000 people.

Supporters of Turkey’s main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party watched the results in Ankara. Credit Erhan Ortac/Getty Images

The result of the Turkish referendum was close. It was much closer than observers thought it would be. There were many reports of problems at the polling places.

Erdogan is a brutal leader. His campaign threatened opponents. There was violence. He made it hard for the opposition to use the airwaves. He appealed to Turks who had left the country but could still vote. Some European countries objected. They did not want the Turkish campaign in their nation. Erdogan said they were acting like Nazis.

Events worry academics and members of the opposition. They say that the new system will threaten the separation of powers. Democracies depend on courts and a parliament. That is how you keep a president in check.

Many observers say Erdogan will show no mercy to his opponents. His goal, they say, is not to unify but to rule.

Events since the failed coup attempt bear that out.

Erdogan supporters want a strong government. It will make Turkey better able to tackle its many challenges. These include:

  • A troubled economy;
  • The world’s largest population of Syrian refugees;
  • Islamic State terrorist campaigns;
  • A civil war against Kurdish insurgents;
  • The Syrian war across Turkey’s border.

Global observers say the campaign was not fair. There were many reports of problems at the polling places.

Erdogan made a statement to supporters. He said, “We are enacting the most important governmental reform of our history.”

But supporters of democracy know the beginning of tyranny when they see it.

Source: The New York Times April 16, 2017

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