I weep for Turkey: Erdogan wins vote to greatly expand presidential power

Kemal Atatürk must be spinning in his grave, for his people have narrowly given Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s Islamist President, a victory in a referendum vote. I’m leaving New Zealand in a few hours, and won’t bother you with the details (see them at the New York Times), but the referendum expands Erdogan’s powers, making this odious man even more of a tyrant than he is. As the Times notes:

The constitutional change, if it stands, will allow the winner of the 2019 presidential election to assume full control of the government, ending the current parliamentary political system.

The ramifications, however, would be immediate. The “yes” vote in the referendum would be a validation of the current leadership style of Mr. Erdogan, who has been acting as a de facto head of government since his election in 2014 despite having no constitutional right to wield such power. The office of the president was meant to be an impartial role that lacks full executive authority.

The result would tighten Mr. Erdogan’s grip on the country, which is one of the leading external actors in the Syrian civil war, a major way station along the migration routes to Europe and a crucial Middle Eastern partner of the United States and Russia.

And the changes allow Erdogan to be president for up to 15 more years! From the NYT:

The new system will, among other changes:

• Abolish the post of prime minister and transfer executive power to the president.

• Allow the newly empowered president to issue decrees and appoint many of the judges and officials responsible for scrutinizing his decisions.

• Limit the president to two five-year terms, but give the option of running for a third term if Parliament truncates the second one by calling for early elections.

• Allow the president to order disciplinary inquiries into any of Turkey’s 3.5 million civil servants, according to an analysis by the head of the Turkish Bar Association.

When I first heard this I thought, “Well. the Turkish people are now going to get what they deserve,” but then I remembered Donald Trump, whom nobody deserves, and I also suspect that reports of rigged voting in Turkey are correct. And I remembered my progressive Turkish friends, and how horrified they must be today.

Why would people in a democracy vote against that democracy? I don’t know enough about Turkish politics to speculate.


  1. Posted April 16, 2017 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    Why did people vote against our democracy? Why do people vote against their best interest? Sounds stupid and not real, but they did it. Hugs

    • BJ
      Posted April 16, 2017 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

      Let’s not compare this to Donald Trump. Trump was elected as a candidate for President. Erdogan has been acting as a tyrant for several years now and has taken a secular democracy and slowly transformed it into a theocracy. He has now been given even further power, thus solidifying his position as, essentially, the new dictator of Turkey.

      As for why: Turkey is a deeply divided nation when it comes to secularism versus Islamism, democracy versus theocracy. It wasn’t always this way in prior decades, but the last two decades — and this past decade in particular — have seen the rise of Islamism and Erdogan fanning its flames.

      Up until the last few years, Turkey was a beacon of hope in the (admittedly small, but, one hoped, growing) liberal Muslim world: an example that showed a significantly Muslim country could also be modern, secular, and democratic. All this has been turned around in just a few short years.

      The scariest part is we’re not just talking about another Islamist theocracy in the Middle East. Turkey’s geographical position makes this shift far more dangerous than it would otherwise be. I expect it to move away from its relationship with the US and Europe in the coming years and towards Russia.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted April 16, 2017 at 9:35 pm | Permalink

        +1. Especially the last paragraph. 😦

        • BJ
          Posted April 17, 2017 at 7:43 am | Permalink

          Thanks, and also yes to your sad face. Sad face, indeed. Turkey was such a beacon of hope to so many people. It’s almost as if once Islamism corrupts something, there’s no turning back. I’m so saddened by all of this.

          • Walt Jones
            Posted April 17, 2017 at 9:38 am | Permalink

            Religion poisons everything.

      • Posted April 18, 2017 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

        + 2

    • Craw
      Posted April 17, 2017 at 7:30 am | Permalink

      Americans did not reject democracy. They elected a man you don’t like.

      • Posted April 17, 2017 at 8:59 am | Permalink

        Yes I dislike him because he broke the law repeatedly, plus he lied with abandon. He clearly showed his is not fit to hold office. In letting his clear collusion with Russia slide, and refusing to hold him accountable for his actions, the people in the US turned from democracy to some type of Oligarchy. Hugs

        • BJ
          Posted April 17, 2017 at 9:43 am | Permalink

          Unless you have clear evidence of collusion with Russia, you cannot use that as evidence that he cannot hold office and that voting for him was somehow a vote against democracy itself.

          • Posted April 17, 2017 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

            Hello BJ, I think it is pretty clear. If republicans in congress were not interfering with the investigations, it would have been all out in the open by now.

            • BJ
              Posted April 17, 2017 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

              What would have been out in the open? You’re clearly implying that the evidence would be found, but that we don’t actually have it yet. Until then, positive assertions that there is direct collusion between the Russian government and Trump administration are irresponsible.

              I don’t necessarily disagree that this collusion may be the case and evidence may be out there, but there is no way I would act as if I was certain it this is true and, by extension, that Trump is an illegitimately elected President.

  2. GBJames
    Posted April 16, 2017 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    Theocracy-driven authoritarianism marches on…

  3. Randy schenck
    Posted April 16, 2017 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

    Among all the other problems with this election, possible corruption of the vote, fear and intimidation, there is another thing. Should these types of changes be determined by general election of all the people? I don’t think so.

    The general voting public can be fooled as our recent election shows very clearly. Big changes in government, such as constitutional changes, should be made by the elected officials of the government. Our system here is an example of that and the 5th article explains how it can be done.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted April 16, 2017 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

      Yes. Brexit is another example of this.

      I saw an interview of Erdoğan and the PM a few months ago in which the PM endorsed the changes Erdoğan wanted to make. The PM looked very uncomfortable, and I got the impression that Erdoğan had something he was holding over him to make him support the changes. The PM actually said the changes would be good for Turkey and make it more democratic (!!!), under the watchful eye of Erdoğan.

    • Harrison
      Posted April 17, 2017 at 6:07 am | Permalink

      “The general voting public can be fooled as our recent election shows very clearly. Big changes in government, such as constitutional changes, should be made by the elected officials of the government.”

      I don’t really think this is a good argument when we’re talking about autocrats seizing power. The pretense of popular support has value, but removing it isn’t going to stop would-be dictators or oligarchs in unstable regions. For something like this to happen indicates a fundamentally broken state to begin with.

      • Harrison
        Posted April 17, 2017 at 6:15 am | Permalink

        Not to mention there’s something inherently perverse about the implication that in order to stop politicians from seizing undue power, we must only allow politicians to be the ones to decide on how power is distributed and not the public.

        Arguments that the public are all rubes who can’t be trusted to make decisions for themselves also undermine democracy. They’re why we’re still stuck with an archaic Electoral College.

        • Randy schenck
          Posted April 17, 2017 at 7:53 am | Permalink

          I think you just made my argument. If the Electoral College is bad and needs to go, why haven’t the intelligent democratic public done something about it. Constitutional amendment is in their hands. Throwing open big changes in government to all voters is not the way a Republic operates. Now it you want pure democracy, good luck to you in finding one.

          • FiveGreenLeafs
            Posted April 17, 2017 at 9:38 am | Permalink

            @Randy schenck,

            This might be a good place to rephrase these words…

            “Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” (Winston Churchill, Speech in the House of Commons, 11 November 1947)

            I agree with Harrison, that there is something truly opaque and contorted in these kinds of reasonings, that fails to appreciate the wider perspective and follow the consequences thought to the very end, and therefore misses the mark completely.

            It seems (to me) to be based on several erroneous assumptions.

            That a set of elected representatives are more difficult to control, threaten and manipulate than the population at large, and that they would be safer (wiser) hands than the unruly plebs. Or, that undemocratic parties never would win enough seats to wrest this power into their own hands in democratic countries.

            All of the assumptions above are historically factually wrong, (and I would claim) extremely naive.

            Just to point to one of the most fateful recent example. In March 1933, the Reichstag voted to basically abolish itself through the “Enabling Act”, with 444 for and 94 against. (It is well worth to notice that the NSDAP at the time only had 196 seats). The rest is, as one says, history…

            • FiveGreenLeafs
              Posted April 17, 2017 at 9:55 am | Permalink

              To clarify. I stand (in this case) fully behind Churchill & Harrison, and argue against Randy & Heather.

              • Randy schenck
                Posted April 17, 2017 at 10:44 am | Permalink

                As is your perogitive but I would ask you as well….show me a pure democracy today or one that ever lasted long. You might want to look up the definition and not just take a word thrown out by Churchill or anyone else as the form we or someone else has today.

                I don’t know beans about German govt. but I do know the one in the U.S. and it is not now nor has it ever been a democracy in actual practice. Because you vote now and then here, does not determine the type of govt. you have. Just a hit – a democracy does not give a damn about upholding the rights of minorities.

              • FiveGreenLeafs
                Posted April 17, 2017 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

                @Randy schenck,

                “show me a pure democracy today or one that ever lasted long.”

                I think you fail to understand what (I believe) Churchill is trying to convey, namely,

                There exist no perfect system of government, and even less, any perfect (pure) systems of democracy. But, of all imperfect and bad systems we have tried, our imperfect democracy is the least bad, compared to all the others.

                Our human individual personalities are messy, and so are by necessity our systems of governance. So no, I will not give any examples of any “pure democracies” because they do not (as far as I know) exist.

                But, what history and knowledge can tell us, is that just shifting power from the voters to a much smaller circle of an elected representative elite, will not prevent authoritarian overthrowing democracies.

                The vote for the “Enabling Act” in 1933 is a case in point, where an elected body, “The Reichstag”, abolished itself, the the Weimar constitution, and set Germany on track for one party state, WWII and 50 million dead.

                So, if you believe that if we only take away power from the voters and handle it to a representative elected elite, such things will not happen (Brexit, Erdogan, etc.), you are (I think) deluding yourself.

              • Randy schenck
                Posted April 17, 2017 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

                Well, you are going way back in modern history to find what you believe is an example of representative govt. verses a public vote for something. So I guess you think if Hitler had say, have a public vote by all the people on this Enabling Act and it would have turned out different? Otherwise, I don’t know why you are taking this discussion here. I don’t think you can show that so the example means nothing. The vote by the Reichstag to pass this act, in effect, blew up their government and gave the country to Hitler.

                If the German people, in mass, had been against this coup, would they not revolt? These were desperate times for the country as I understand it and they were ripe for such a thing when in happened.

  4. Graham
    Posted April 16, 2017 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

    Speaking to a Turk a couple of weeks back and he was a big fan of Erdogan. Usual populist and nationalist reasons – brought back pride in Turkey, supports Islam, against elites, against terrorists (Kurds) also said that the AKP Party give money to poor people.

  5. Posted April 16, 2017 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

    “Why would people in a democracy vote against that democracy?”

    The go-to person on this in a Turkish context is Taner Edis. But I don’t know if he’ll be up to answering questions at the moment

  6. BJ
    Posted April 16, 2017 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

    Turkey is a country that has become divided. The vast majority used to support Kamal Ataturk’s vision of a secular democracy, but that has changed, particularly over the last decade (and especially the last few years). It is now deeply divided between Islamists who want a theocracy and those who still support the founding ideals. Basically, Turkey’s liberal side is now screwed. I expect them to start moving on to greener pastures in other European countries over the next few years as the Islamism and tyranical behavior of Erdogan continues, and for Turkey to become a full-blown theocracy headed by what is essentially a dictator over the course of the next decade.

  7. Posted April 17, 2017 at 12:37 am | Permalink

    The Turks I have met on my visits to that beautiful country (admittedly not necessarily a representative sample) were all intelligent, warm and welcoming people. They most certainly did not deserve Erdoğan. I suspect many of them did not vote for him either.

    Of my American friends and family, only two voted for Trump. Who did?

  8. Michiel van Haren
    Posted April 17, 2017 at 3:53 am | Permalink

    Why would people in a democracy vote against that democracy?

    From what I’ve read, Erdogan has mobilised the people from Turkish countryside which is way more religious and nationalistic than the more progressive cities. These people have been made (rightly or not) to feel they did not have a voice under the progressive, secular direction set out by Atatürk and were ridiculed by their more progressive countrymen. Now Erdogan plays on their pride, nationalism and feelings of religious identity. They don’t care about democracy. They just want some tough guy to make them feel good and tells them islam will rule the world.

    There seems to be a similar divide in the US, but the spirit of democracy and freedom of speech is stronger there and there is more respect and reverence for the constitution.

    I just would like to know how NATO is gonna deal with one of it’s main members now being a de facto islamic dictatorship.

    About 70% of all Turks in the Netherlands are in Erdogan’s camp. In Rotterdam Huge banners of the Turkish Flag and an image of Erdogan seeming to admonish our Prime Minister, with a subtitle “they talk, we act!” were hung from the Erasmus bridge. Police quickly removed these.

    • Posted April 18, 2017 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

      “They don’t care about democracy. They just want some tough guy to make them feel good and tell them islam will rule the world.”

      You nailed it!

  9. sensorrhea
    Posted April 17, 2017 at 6:50 am | Permalink

    I guess this vindicates the Star Wars prequels.

    • BJ
      Posted April 17, 2017 at 7:46 am | Permalink

      Nothing can ever vindicate the prequels. Nothing!

      • sensorrhea
        Posted April 17, 2017 at 8:18 am | Permalink

        On second thought you’re probably right. Sounds like the prime minister of Turkey is this story’s Jar jar Binks.

        • BJ
          Posted April 17, 2017 at 10:26 am | Permalink

          Jar Jar Binks…talk about a turkey…

  10. Posted April 17, 2017 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Art History blog.

  11. revelator60
    Posted April 17, 2017 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    I’m afraid Turkey’s plight illustrates an age-old problem: liberal democracy is ideal, but democracy does not guarantee liberalism. What if the people do not want to be free, or will trade their freedom for prosperity and security?

    Turkey has a superficial resemblance to the United States in having a blue coastal region that is liberal/secular and red heartland that is conservative/religious. The three biggest cities in Turkey—Istanbul, Ankara and İzmir—all voted no on this referendum, as did the fourth and fifth biggest cities, Adana and Antalya. But almost all of the non-coastal Anatolian cities (aside from those in the predominantly Kurdish southeastern region) voted yes.

    Those who voted yes often gave “stability” as their reason. Under Erdogan the Turkish economy did considerably better than before he came to power, and many in the heartland benefited from this. However, the economy is now slowing down, and this will be the biggest threat to rule.
    Terrorism and domestic security are another factor. Turkey has been in a state of emergency since last summer’s failed coup, and the country has suffered numerous terrorist attacks from ISIS and the PKK. Many of these problems were of Erdogan’s own making—he coddled the Gulenists who tried to depose him, he let ISIS operate in Turkey to bring down Assad, and he restarted operations against the Kurds when their political party became a threat to AKP rule in parliament. But just as Bush was reelected after 9/11, Erdogan has triumphed after the coup attempt and is seen as the strongman the party needs. It helps that Erdogan controls the media and makes sure he is seen as Turkey’s valiant champion.

    The referendum’s victory is further proof of populism’s victory march across the world. It is a democratic victory, but not a liberal one. A narrow majority of this country’s population favors living in a majoritarian, religious, illiberal state.

    • BJ
      Posted April 17, 2017 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

      “What if the people do not want to be free, or will trade their freedom for prosperity and security?”

      In this case, they’re not even trading it for such things, but merely for theocracy and dictatorship.

      • revelator60
        Posted April 17, 2017 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

        But theocracy and dictatorship are able to deliver prosperity and security to those who accept that form of government. China is a dictatorial oligarchy that has brought prosperity and security to its people at the expense of freedom.
        Erdogan has wholeheartedly embraced modern capitalism and is a canny operator—he’s not going to follow the example of Iran and institute a theocracy that isn’t compatible with big business.

        • BJ
          Posted April 17, 2017 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

          That’s actually a good point. But the question remains: will increasing theocratic rule and dictatorial control reduce the desire of many businesses to conduct significant business there? That is often how things turn out. I wonder if Erdogan can walk such a fine line, maintaining the country’s capitalist ties while embracing theocracy and dictatorial control.

          • FiveGreenLeafs
            Posted April 17, 2017 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

            ” I wonder if Erdogan can walk such a fine line, maintaining the country’s capitalist ties while embracing theocracy and dictatorial control.”

            There is I think an important difference in relation to for example China, and that is that China is (relatively) moving forward, to more freedoms and a better economic situation.

            Turkey is moving backwards, from a more open and prosperous society.

            Another problem is that he is also imperialistic, and vigorously promotes expansion of radical islam.

            That will, I think, sooner or later, end in serious trouble.

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