Erdogan expands his powers: From Kemalism to Sultanship

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Photo Credit: La Vanguardia
Photo Credit: La Vanguardia

By: Pablo A. Jofré Leal / The Dawn News / April 19, 2017

On Sunday, April 16, the Turkish society went to the polls to vote on a referendum called by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on whether they wanted to grant more power to the executive through 18 Constitutional reforms or wanted to keep the political system they had since 1924.

The result favored the Yes by a very narrow margin: 51.4% to 48.6% with

a participation of 85%  of the registry. This result greenlights the consolidation of an autocratic regime which will enable Erdogan to govern Turkey until the year 2034.

The reforms include suppressing the seat of Prime Minister (transforming the Parliamentary system to a Presidential one), giving the President all the power to name ministers, and exercise a strong influence on the judiciary power by being able to name 50% of the members of the High Council of Judges and Ombudsmen, which includes managing the hiring and dismissal of officials working in the judiciary system. The reforms also eliminate military courts and limit the amount of time a person can be President to two five-year terms—but there’s a caveat: Erdogan’s current presidency wouldn’t count, allowing him to have a blank slate and be re-elected two more times. If this happened, he would manage to have remained in power for a total of 27 years.

An end to 93 years of Kemalism

The Turkish President has demanded foreign countries, and especially the European Union, to respect the referendum results. Meanwhile, the two main opposition parties have denounced fraud and vote manipulation. The Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) have denounced the open and illegal interference of officialism in the process through the abuse of public resources to favor Erdogan’s government and tip the scale towards the Yes.

Also, the opposition affirms that Erdogan’s triumph further intensifies the autocratic nature of Turkey’s state, because the Executive would assume almost absolute powers. Kurds, for their part, affirm that Erdogan’s transition from President to a figure more akin to Otoman sultans means that the Kurdish people would further lose their rights and a civil war would unleash.

On the other hand, the supporters of the Yes to the referendum argued that giving more power to Erdogan would help stabilize the country, allow the economy to grow and provide security—which is an issue that has meant the dwindling of tourism.

These changes to the Turkish Constitution and political system, which will come into force in 2019, are the most profound ones since 1924, when the father of the Turkish Nation, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, established the Parliamentary system, which has ruled since then with the exception of the periods of military coups. The one that took place in 1980 gave an enormous amount of power to the Turkish Army, which became not only a fundamental political actor but also a relevant economic agent.

The last coup attempt took place last year when a sector of the Army tried to oust Erdogan. Erdogan managed to crush it and since then he’s taken that as an opportunity to make a huge purge in the army, the police, universities and all powers of the Turkish state, expanding his power and control.

The Yes on the referendum won in the bastions of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP): the regions of Anatolia and the Black Sea. Meanwhile, in the areas that border the Aegean Sea, the Mediterranean Sea and the South-Eastern areas with Kurdish majorities, the No won, like in the big cities Istanbul, Esmirna and Ankara. This shows a divided country.

Erdogan’s victory is a message to Europe, after the events that confronted him with some of the governments of the Old Continent that forbade Turkish officials to campaign in cities like Berlin, Zurich, and Rotterdam. “Sunday is the day on which our people is going to teach a lesson to those European countries that wanted to intimidate us”, Erdogan said.

Turkey has been waiting for 54 years to be accepted as a full member of the EU, but this seems a complex and almost impossible task given not only Europe’s wave of Islamophobia but also the fact that Erdogan is pushing to legalize the death penalty in Turkey, which the EU rejects.

The triumph of the AKP in the referendum is also a sign for the US government, which counts on Turkey as one of its most important allies in the Middle east and fears the possibility that Erdogan might become closer to the Russian Federation, especially after Erdogan accused the US of protecting the man who’s responsible for the coup against him: Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish theologist and multimillionaire formerly allied to Erdogan, who’s now living in the US.

Gulen’s supporters, according to the Turkish government, are the cause of many of Turkey’s problems, and therefore their leader must be extradited from the US and judged in Turkey, and none of his followers can work in public office. 100 thousand people have been dismissed, including professors, militaries, police-men and -women, members of the Soccer Federation, officials of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Federal Judges, and Prosecutors. All of them were accused of following this clergyman who promoted inter-religious dialogue and is backed by Israel and the Vatican.

From Kemalism to Erdogan’s Sultanate

Thanks to victory in the referendum, Erdogan could be president until 2034 (provided he won two consecutive Presidential elections), with all of the powers he just obtained. Over the last five years, the AKP has worked towards this reform to consolidate their political powers along with the economic and military alliances it has managed to forge in their 15 years of omnimode presence in Turkish political life.

Today, 93 years of the period known as “Modern Turkey” come to an end. It has fone from Kemalism—the core set of principles on which the 1924 Republic was based on—to Neo-Ottomanism, although some analysts doubt that imperial ideas are resurfacing. My impression is that this doctrine is not only more alive than ever—despite all the regional tensions Turkey is surrounded by—but also that it has strengthened thanks to this referendum.

But there’s a difference between this doctrine and Erdogan’s plan, and it’s visible in the field of foreign policy. Neo-Ottomanism follows the rule of “avoiding problems with neighbors”, and this is observable in Turkey’s approach to the Russian Federation as well as the Islamic Republic of Iran, under the premise that these potencies are fundamental to achieve stability in the Middle East.

I said, months before the coup that took place in July 2016, that “the geo-strategic reality of the Middle East and its effects on the issue of refugees and military participation of Western powers in the area is a source of tension for Neo-Ottomanism since it seeks ‘Strategic Depth and Zero Problems with neighbors’, which is unattainable in a region where alliances are forged on the base of dissimilar interests, goals and realities”. These are unattainable goals but nevertheless Erdogan’s plan is to make pragmatic politics and move all of his pieces in one direction, in order to turn his country into a regional heavyweight.

Neo-Ottomanism believes in Pan-Turanism, which is the the idea of unity between all peoples of Turkic origin—a notion that Atatürk disdained. This idea can conflict with the principle of good relations with neighbors, since for Turkey it entails an expansionist strategy which wouldn’t be welcome. This directly threatens the Kurds, Syria, and Iraq, and is at the base of their alliance with extremist regimes like the Saudi and the Zionist ones.

Turkey is down the path towards a police state, with sectarian ideology. It has shut down dissident newspapers, it represses the Kurdish people, and it promotes a political system where there’s only place for the AKP. The suspension of all forms of opposition, especially after the false-flag attack to Ankara in October 2015, the 2016 coup and the repression to people accused of supporting Gulen leave no doubts that Erdogan’s government violates basic human rights.

Another violation of the good-neighbor principle is Turkey’s participation in the aggression against Syria. Its plan is to control the Kurdish area of this country and try to create an exclusion area by deploying troops without Syria’s authorization. In many ways, it has supported salaafist groups that operate in Syria and Iraq—a country where Turkey also has interfered.

Turkey is a NATO country since 1952, and it has played the role of a spearhead, not only against Russia, but also against all societies that are under the control of this Military Alliance. Turkey has the second largest military in NATO, topped only by the US, and that’s no coincidence—it’s a part of a greater plan for the Middle East that’s mostly concerned with Iran and Russia.

Under Erdogan, Turkey has also played the role of a net for the EU, preventing the hundreds of thousands of refugees that arrive in its territory to enter Europe. In exchange for this, Europe has payed Turkey thousands of millions of dollars and Turkey is playing the refugee card to try to enter the EU.

Last but not least, Turkey has abandoned the Palestinian people in favor of striking deals with Israel and forming a triad of terror together with Saudi Arabia.

Now Erdogan is radicalizing the Neo-Ottomanism that was promoted by former Chancellor and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, and is leaving behind the utopia of peaceful relations with neighbors in order to recover the old area of influence of the Turkic peoples, under the principle of Strategic Depth.

Erdogan has a mission for the region: to bring back the old splendor of the Ottoman Empire under the guidance of a Sultan vested with absolute power. His victory on the April 16 referendum is another step towards this goal. We’re witnessing the conformation of a XXI-century sultanate.

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