April 17th, 2017

Turkey’s referendum: the path to tyranny

Yesterday there was a referendum in Turkey that used a democratic process to give Erdogan dictatorial powers.

The pro-Erdogan forces didn’t call the powers the referendum would confer “dictatorial,” of course. But that’s what they were.

Erdogan has declared victory:

With nearly all of the 47.5 millions votes counted, state media reported that 51.4% had voted in favor versus 48.6% against, revealing deep divisions within the country over its future rule.

Voters were asked to endorse an 18-article reform package put forward by the ruling Justice and Development Party that would replace the current system of parliamentary democracy with a powerful executive presidency.

Can you imagine changing the constitution so fundamentally and installing a dictator, with a one-time vote that’s won by a slight majority? Well, a lot of people in Turkey can’t imagine it either, especially when this sort of thing has been happening:

Alongside claims of voting irregularities, the “No” campaign said they faced intimidation and threats of violence, and independent monitors say that state media slanted coverage in favor of the president.

Erdogan and his party already had plenty of power, enough to intimidate a lot of people. Now they’ll have more. I see him as the Turkish/Muslim equivalent of Hugo Chavez.

What are the changes that loom so disturbingly? There are many, but the ones that trouble me most are these:

The president alone will be able to announce a state of emergency and dismiss parliament.

Parliament will lose its right to scrutinise ministers or propose an enquiry.

Even Hitler felt he had to ask Parliament to vote to dissolve itself when he managed to coerce, manipulate, and terrorize them into voting for the Enabling Act. Erdogan will be able to do something similar with greater ease, by declaring a national emergency—for example, after an act of terrorism—if he thinks the time is ripe.

The Turkish legislature now retains this one stop on Erdogan’s overwhelming power:

However, [the Turkish Parliament] will be able to begin impeachment proceedings or investigate the president with a majority vote by MPs. Putting the president on trial would require a two-thirds majority.

Good luck getting that 2/3 majority. I don’t foresee that in Turkey’s future.

[NOTE: It’s not the first time Erdogan has twisted the supposed democratic process in such a way that it circumvents that process in order to give him more power. I’ve written many posts on the subject, but I suggest reading this one and especially this post I wrote last July, during the time of an attempted anti-Erdogan coup.]

21 Responses to “Turkey’s referendum: the path to tyranny”

  1. Big Maq Says:

    erdogan’s history of PM to term limit and then switch to President (then expand its powers beyond its ceremonial purposes) seems rather similar to putin’s approach.


  2. Big Maq Says:

    Interesting take here – on the new authoritarian-lite playbook…

    “By maintaining at least the basic forms of constitutional democracy, the semi-authoritarian avoids alienating the opposition to the extent that it will try to overthrow him.

    It’s not a coincidence that these leaders’ parties are all populist. And populism glories in speaking for “the people,” defined narrowly enough to exclude the opposition.

    It emerges that semi-authoritarianism is a terrific way to stay in power so long as you have a populist base and a willingness to erode free speech and free elections.

    The world doesn’t yet have a good set of tools to respond, … Expect more leaders around the world to follow his lead.”


  3. Tuvea Says:

    Same playbook that the ‘democraticly elected’ governments of the Palestinians use.

    One man. One vote. One time.

  4. DNW Says:

    “It emerges that semi-authoritarianism is a terrific way to stay in power so long as you have a populist base and a willingness to erode free speech and free elections.”

    Like FDR. Apparently his own son Elliot was on record as stating that his father was the first to directly use the IRS to go after political opponents.

  5. London Trader Says:

    Before I make a somewhat controversial statement I’ll stipulate that:

    I think this Turkey vote is terrible and possibly manipulated.
    I am in favor of Brexit.

    But you said “Can you imagine changing the constitution so fundamentally and installing a dictator, with a one-time vote that’s won by a slight majority?”. How is this different from the one time Brexit vote (which of course doesn’t install a dictator but does fundamentally change the UK’s constitutional settlement) that was won with a similar vote split?

  6. neo-neocon Says:

    London Trader:

    That’s exactly how it’s different. It’s a big difference, too.

    By the way, I don’t think a referendum was the proper way to decide something as big as Brexit, either. In the US, it doesn’t happen that way; we don’t hold national referenda.

    But Brexit is a far far cry from changing a constitution and enabling a dictator to dissolve Parliament. A far cry.

  7. Brian Swisher Says:

    Not to mention that the mechanism for exiting the EU is already built into the EU constitution.

  8. Esther Says:

    Historically, Turkey was dragged into democracy, and literacy, by Kemal Ataturk. Considered somewhat of a dictator too. There was always resistance to the idea of secular western democracy by a large segment of their population.

    When Erdogan disempowered the Turkish military, who traditionally staged coups to uphold Araturk’s legacy, the writing was on the wall.

    Despite being Obama’s favorite world leader, Erdogan has been incrementally undoing the democratic institutions –western style education, journalism etc– since he was first elected, so it’s not really sudden. Kemalists have been like those frogs in the slowly heating pot of water.

  9. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    Erdogan once said that democracy for him is like a bus ride. “Once I get to my stop, I’m getting off.”

    He also once said, “I do not subscribe to the view that Islamic culture and democracy cannot be reconciled.

    I suspect those two statements provide a window into Erdogan’s mind and endgame. He’s in favor of an Islamic ‘democracy’ much like Iran’s, where Turks can vote but only for the political candidates that have been approved by the Imams. Which is just a Sunni theocracy wrapped within a facade of democratic pretense.

    So, how will the NATO nation’s respond? I’m betting on them looking the other way. See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. Until that is, Erdogan seizes the nukes at Turkey’s Incirlik Air Base. Can there be any doubt that Erdogan covets them?

  10. Frog Says:

    A fine 2016 piece on nukes at Incirlik:

  11. J.J. Says:

    Modern Turkey 1922 – 2017 RIP. (HT Instapundit.)

  12. parker Says:

    Erdogan is making a mistake. As noted, the vote was a squeaker and the results highly questionable. Erdogan will need to exercise total control and this will ultimately result in a weakened economy. We have decided to cross Istanbul off our bucket list. Nothing like an Islamist state to discourage tourism.


    I remember the incident you linked. Time to boot Erdogan out of NATO and find other locations for those nukes. Islamists are so special… 1400 years of intolerance, death and destruction.

  13. expat Says:

    You also have to remember that there is a geographic divide in the vote. The cities, where the most successful and educated live, don’t support Erdogan. The rural areas do. From what I’ve read there has been some migration of rural types into the cities in recent years and they haven’t given up their tribal customs. They are probably looked down upon by the Attaturk Turks.

    There was a German news report yesterday about the Turks here. One group of non-supporters interviewed seemed to be mostly middle-aged men who a had probably established an acceptable life here and are comfortable living under a secular government. The avid pro-Erdogan types seemed to be mostly young activist types. I suspect Erdogan has been shipping his Imams to Germany ti rile them up. A few years ago, Erdogan visited Germany and gave a talk telling Turks here not to assimilate.

  14. huxley Says:

    One of the reasons I supported the Iraq War was the hope Iraq could be a model for other Muslim nations to enter the post-WWII international order, which, however imperfect, has provided a way for dissimilar, antagonistic nations to coexist.

    We don’t know if the Iraq experiment was doomed to fail. However, once Obama was in power, he and the Democrats promptly set up that failure by withdrawing almost all support at once.

    However, left to their own devices, we find Muslim nations inevitably devolve to the Islamic template of a barbaric, authoritarian supremacism.

    It’s not a mystery why this happens if you read the Koran and the history of Islam.

    Big Maq, if you are there, this is why I am so down on Islam. I’m not a naturally bigoted person. I would love to embrace Islam as another jewel in the crown of human spirituality.

    For that matter Islam is not lacking in spiritual gifts. Rumi, the Sufis and all that.

    But at the social and political level, Islam heads off into horror like other supremacist belief systems. WWII Germany and Japan leap immediately to mind.

    Malaysia and Indonesia are supposed to the great Muslim exceptions and they sort of are. For now.

    But once upon a time Turkey was such an exception.

  15. huxley Says:

    Historically, Turkey was dragged into democracy, and literacy, by Kemal Ataturk.

    Esther: +1.

  16. JTW Says:

    “powerful executive presidency”.


  17. expat Says:

    Here is a piece from Der Spiegel with a table showing how Turks in Germany voted:


    Even if you don’t read German, the table is clear.

    The author says that Turks he talked to voted for Erdogan because they didn’t feel accepted in Germany. Apparently, what this vote means for the political system in Turkey was not really an issue.

    In other Spiegel articles, they had maps of how the vote went in other European countries: Erdogan won in Germany, France, Belgium, Holland, Austria, Norway, and a few Balkan countries.

  18. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    Mark Steyn, April 16th 2007 “Who Lost Turkey?”,
    “Since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, there have been two Turkeys: the Turks of Rumelia, or European Turkey, and the Turks of Anatolia, or Asia Minor. Kemal Atatürk was from Rumelia and so were most of his supporters, and they imposed the modern Turkish Republic on a somewhat relunctant Anatolia, where Atatürk’s distinction between the state and Islam was never accepted. In its 80-year history, the population has increased from 14 million in 1923 to 70 million today, but the vast bulk of that population growth has come from Anatolia, whose population has migrated from the rural hinterland to overwhelm the once solidly Kemalist cities. Atatürk’s modern secular Turkey has simply been outbred by fiercely Islamic Turkey. That’s a lesson in demography from an all-Muslim sample: no pasty white blokes were involved.” [my emphasis]

    That dynamic is of course not limited to Turkey.

    “One day, millions of men will leave the Southern Hemisphere to go to the Northern Hemisphere. And they will not go there as friends. Because they will go there to conquer it. And they will conquer it with their sons. The wombs of our women will give us victory.” Algerian leader Houari Boumedienne speaking at the UN, 1974“

    “Migrant crisis: Three million expected to reach EU by 2017”

    “More than 8,000 migrants were rescued in the Mediterranean and brought to Italy in the space of just three days over Easter” http://www.telegraph.co.uk/

    “2030 – That’s when we take over” – a popular t-shirt slogan worn by Muslim youth in Stockholm

    Only the willfully blind deny the obvious.

  19. Yankee Says:

    Turkey’s an odd country, with parts of it European, and the rest Asian. And before modern Turkey, there was the long history of the Ottoman Empire, then the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire before that, and then earlier still all the clashes between the ancient Greeks and the Persian Empire. But that deals with the geography only, since the Turks were relative late-comers to that land (around 1000 AD, from Central Asia).

    Turkey has also had conflicts with Greece, Armenia, and Russia in the recent past. (And they all have long memories in those parts.)

  20. OM Says:

    From someone who actually knows something about Turkey/


    “I think of the many good Turkish officers I served with and their families. Culturally, they were modern, forward looking people almost as Western as I am. Sadly, history does not seem to be going in their direction.”

    Recommended by cdr salamander


  21. Ymar Sakar Says:

    “I think of the many good Turkish officers I served with and their families. Culturally, they were modern, forward looking people almost as Western as I am. Sadly, history does not seem to be going in their direction.”

    CDR’s blog during 2003 and OIF was interesting as a pro war and patriotic one.

    Of course, people who like to use other people’s authorities as their own mantle of righteous will often deceive people. They do so by failing to note that Japan was Westernized before WWII. The US navy had great relations with Japan pre WWI, and naval attaches and exchanged happened regularly.

    Sadly, history wasn’t going in the direction of peace in Japan.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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