Turkey quickly heading towards dictatorship

Spotlight: Erdogan’s push for executive presidency poses risks for Turkey

Source: Xinhua | 2016-05-14 22:23:29 | Editor: huaxia

BRUSSELS, Oct. 5 (Xinhua) — European Council President Donald Tusk on Monday met with visiting President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan, calling for closer cooperation on coping with refugee crisis.

ISTANBUL, May 14 (Xinhua) — Turkey risks further dividing its society and worsening relations in particular with the West, as Turkish President Erdogan pushes for executive presidency, analysts here said.

Since being elected president in 2014, Erdogan has been pushing for a switch to the presidential system for him to emerge as the sole figure calling the shots in the government and in his ruling party.

His push for an executive presidency by amending the constitution is expected to gain momentum after he redesigns the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in a snap congress scheduled for next weekend.

“The presidential system is a tool which will turn Turkey into a full-blown authoritarian regime,” said Koray Caliskan, a professor of political science from Bogazici University in Istanbul.

In his view, Turkey is no longer governed by democracy, but rather by a competitive authoritarian regime that stands for a highly flawed “democratic” system in which the opposition faces unfair competition.

A day after an unexpected meeting with Erdogan last week, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu announced that the AKP would have an extraordinary congress and that he would not run for chairman.

Following Davutoglu’s announcement, in which he revealed he was not stepping down by his own choice, Erdogan has been accused by the opposition parties of staging a coup against the government.

“This new situation may exacerbate the authoritarian tendencies that we have been witnessing in recent years,” observed Bican Sahin, president of the Ankara-based Freedom Research Association.

A low-profile candidate who will do as told by Erdogan is expected to be elected chairman at the AKP congress to be held on May 22. The president will then most probably ask the new chairman to form a new government.

It is widely argued that a de-facto presidential system will, after a low-profile prime minister takes office, be in place in Turkey.

“With the removal of Davutoglu from office, Erdogan will have no barriers in fully controlling the government and the party,” remarked Sahin, who is also professor of political science with Hacettepe University.

Erdogan headed the AKP governments until he was elected president and still has almost complete control over the party.

The AKP government has become particularly intolerant of criticism and adopted a more authoritarian attitude following the widespread Gezi Park protests in the summer of 2013.

Then came two sweeping graft probes that became public in December of the same year. The government has since introduced laws restricting freedoms.

“Turkish democracy is under siege. Electoral authoritarianism of the AKP alienates various groups in Turkey such as the secularists, Kurds and Alevis,” said Ayhan Kaya, director of the European Institute with Istanbul Bilgi University.

Erdogan’s insistence on stronger presidency risks increasing the tension and polarization in Turkish society, which is already polarized as was never seen before.

“You can’t introduce such a presidential system in this country without shedding blood,” Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP), said last week, arguing such a change would result in a dictatorial type of regime.

All opposition parties are against replacing Turkey’s current parliamentary system.

Efforts to draft a brand-new constitution and switch to a presidential system is closely linked with the “Project New Turkey” program the Islamist AKP promotes.

The project, which essentially aims to mould the state and society into a religious format, boils down to settling accounts with the secular Turkish Republic, many believe.

Parliament Speaker Ismail Kahraman, an AKP deputy close to Erdogan, recently revealed the party’s dislike of secularism, saying the principle of secularism should be removed from the Constitution.

The current constitution requires a president to be impartial and cut off all his ties with the party he was affiliated with before election.

The president, however, has kept meddling into AKP’s affairs, arguing the constitution must be amended to match the de-facto situation.

Being the first president elected by popular vote, Erdogan argues the current dual executive structure in Turkey — both prime minister and president are being popularly elected — is no longer sustainable.

Many have misgivings about Erdogan’s vision of a presidential system as far as democracy is concerned, as the system he is seeking strongly indicates a one-man rule with only a weakened check-and-balance system.

Last week, Erdogan reportedly said the General Staff and the country’s national intelligence agency, both of which are subordinated to the prime minister, should subordinate to him as head of state.

Under the constitution, the president mostly has symbolic powers although he can chair a cabinet meeting when he deems necessary.

As part of efforts to draft a new constitution, Erdogan promotes a presidential system in which harmony of powers will be the key rather than separation of them.

The president also defends a unicameral system in an executive presidency rather than a bicameral one, arguing the presidency would meet with many obstructions in a bicameral system as is the case in the United States.

“It will be very difficult for Erdogan to convince Turkey in favor of this (presidential) regime,” said Caliskan from Bogazici University.

In the view of Nuray Mert, a political analyst who writes for the Hurriyet Daily News, Turkey may even be in greater trouble than simply sliding away from democracy.

If the AKP manages to carry out its “Project New Turkey,” the country also risks drifting away from market economy toward a nationalist economy based on corporatism, she said in her column on Monday.

A one-man rule in Turkey may also take its toll on Turkey’s relations particularly with the Western world, which has often criticized Turkey over human rights in recent years.

“Turkey may drift further away from the democratic Western world,” Sahin said.

“All of this will lead to a comprehensive revision of Turkey’s relations with the EU and the Western world,” Mert argued in her column.