Changing Constitution to strengthen president will not stabilize Turkey

The Yomiuri ShimbunWouldn’t excessive centralization of power in the hands of the Turkish president create even deeper divisions in Turkish society and further destabilize the country’s political condition? The current state of things in that nation can be described as a grave turning point that may cause apprehension about the future of the country’s democracy.

Turkey, a regional power that bridges Europe and the Middle East, has conducted a national referendum on amending its Constitution to greatly strengthen presidential power. Voters in favor of the amendments outnumbered those against it by a slim margin. This means Turkey’s current parliamentary cabinet system will shift to a presidential government. Its premiership will be abolished.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a promoter of the constitutional amendments, declared victory, calling the outcome of the referendum a “historic decision.” He seems to believe that his long-running government also won the endorsement of the people in the vote.

After serving as prime minister from 2003, Erdogan was elected president in 2014. Although the Turkish presidency is regarded as a symbolic position under the current Constitution, Erdogan has continued to hold the reins of government. Amending the Constitution will make him the ultimate authority in both name and reality, a move that paves the way for him to stay in power through 2029.

Under the new structure, a Turkish president possesses the right to dissolve the legislature. The president can also appoint cabinet members without parliamentary approval, and intervene in personnel matters regarding judges and prosecutors. This will inevitably be criticized as serving to violate the independence of the judiciary and legislative branches of government, turning the separation of the three pillars of government into a dead letter.

Natl reconciliation vital

After suppressing a coup attempt by some parts of the military in July, the Erdogan administration has continued to crack down on opposition forces and channels of public opinion. The number of people who have been detained is said to have reached about 40,000, with those purged from public service totaling close to 100,000. After the incident, the government declared a state of emergency, which it has repeatedly extended.

The referendum was carried out while measures were being taken to block a movement started by opponents of the amendments. The narrow margin seen in the result of the referendum was an indication of public opposition to Erdogan’s iron-fisted rule.

His administration must listen to the opponents who argue the latest development is a setback for their country’s democracy and a step toward the creation of a dictatorship. Among secular groups who attach importance to the national policy of separating state and religion, there are deep-seated concerns that there may be an increase in the number of government policies tied to Islamic values.

The problem is that, even after the referendum, there has been no change in the extreme approach adopted by Erdogan’s government to try to increase its public appeal by attacking what it sees as “foes” both at home and abroad.

In reference to the doubts raised about the fairness of the referendum by a monitoring group from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Erdogan bluntly said, “First of all, you should know your place.” He also hinted at trying to reinstate the death penalty — a move opposed by the European Union — and also at suspending talks over his nation’s entry into the EU.

Turkey, which shares a border with Syria, has an important role to play in counteracting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militant group and coordinating views with the EU regarding the acceptance of refugees.

Erdogan must realize that it is indispensable to facilitate national reconciliation and improve relations with other countries. These tasks are essential to prevent an outbreak of terrorist attacks and to change his country’s economy for the better.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 19, 2017)Speech


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