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Enthronisation of an ultra-presidential regime?

Article no: EN20170331-Article-1.2-2017

Enthronisation of an ultra-presidential regime?

At first glance, everyday life seems not to have changed in Istanbul. The streets are congested; people hurry to the ferry or the bus. For weeks, there has been no terror attack. Nevertheless, there are some visible changes. There are much more policemen in the streets. In some days, the Istiklal Caddesi, the main shopping street on the European side, seems to be under a state of siege. At every street corner, there is police van with the blue light switched on. In residential quarters, a security officer can be seen off service going shopping with a gun in its hand. Joachim Becker reports.

The Trump government signals unequivocally the end of international US hegemony. An international hegemon is able to define rules that find relatively broad acceptance internationally and plays a role in safeguarding international economic stability. The Trump government which is formed by oligarchs, top managers and former high ranking military officials announced measures that go against the present economic rules while not proposing new ones. De facto, this is an abdication from the role of an international hegemon, Joachim Becker writes.

This was not part of everyday life in the past. And in conversations ? even with avowedly unpolitical persons ? there is only one topic: the coming referendum on the constitutional changes. And there is a lot of uneasiness and fear about what might happen around that date. The government intends to introduce an ultra-presidential regime through the referendum.

? The proposed constitutional changes

State president Recep Tayyip Erdo?an has for a long time nourished this project. The governing nationalist-islamist Adalet ve Kalk?nma Parti (AKP) had, however, been unable to win a sufficient parliamentary majority to push through a constitutional change without a referendum. Even for the referendum, it had to rely as well on the votes of most parliamentarians of the ultra-nationalist Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi (MHP). There was significant resistance in MHP against supporting the constitutional changes. However, the MHP chairman prevailed over the inner-party opposition with the aid of the judiciary. Both, the centrist Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi (CHP) and the heavily prosecuted Kurdish, left-wing orientated Halkar?n Demokratik Partisi (HDP) voted against. Within parliament, there was hardly time for debate. The far-reaching proposals were rushed through by AKP.

The proposed constitutional changes are to install an ultra-presidential regime in Turkey. The President would be empowered to nominate and dismiss the ministers. The post of the prime minister would be abolished. The President would be empowered to dissolve the parliament, to veto laws and issue decrees. The parliament would be completely marginalised. The role of the political parties would be radically diminished. The governing AKP would probably be transformed into an electoral machine and an apparatus for distributing patronage. CHP would probably be attributed with the status of an ?official?, but powerless opposition ? a bit like the Communist Party in Russia. The President would get decisive influence on key appointments in the judiciary. Thus, the partition of powers would be completely hollowed out.

? On the road to a ?One-Man-Regime?

The oppositional forces criticise this constitutional design as the formation of a ?One-Man-Regime?. It would not be possible any more to call the judiciary independent. The extreme concentration of powers to be enshrined in the constitution is the main topic of the campaign for a ?No?.

The oppositional forces campaign under the very adverse circumstances of the state of exception. The media face severe repression. Presently, 145 journalists and media workers are in prisoned. Several media have been banned; others have been bought by businessmen close to the ruling party. With the small exception of Halk TV belonging to CHP, all TV channels toe the government line. Three oppositional dailies are left ? Cumhuriyet with its long tradition, and the two small left-wing dailies Bir Gün and Evrensel. The ?No? campaign has to rely massively on social media.

In the academic sphere which is important for a public debate on constitutional issues, things are not better. Under the law-decrees of the state of exception, 4811 university academics have dismissed. They have lost both their jobs and their passports. One the best-known Turkish law experts, ?brahim Kabo?lu, was among those who lost their jobs in the last round of mass dismissals.

? Opposition under oppression

As Human Rights Watch pointed out, 13 HDP members of parliaments, including the two co-chairpersons, have been imprisoned. In southeast Turkey, almost all elected HDP mayors have been deposed; their city administrations have been purged. Many party activists have been detained. The presence of security forces in the HDP strongholds in the Southeast is massive. HDP is hardly able to participate in the referendum campaign. CHP enjoys more space for campaigning.

In MHP, a strong ?No? platform has been formed against the wishes of the party leadership. There have even been a few dissenting voices in the ruling AKP. In spite of the atmosphere of fear, ?No? campaigners distribute leaflets in the streets, even in conservative neighbourhoods of Istanbul.

? Tense times ahead

The governing AKP has not a strong positive message. It tries to portray the presidential system as a guarantee of stability. However, the everyday experiences of many Turks are different. The country is politically deeply divided. The economic situation is visibly deteriorating. Inflation has accelerated and unemployment is rising. The AKP politicians have resorted to negative campaigning. They have equated the opponents of the constitutional changes with ?terrorists?.

And AKP is trying to reframe the campaign issue. After Turkish Ministers had been prevented from campaigning in the Netherlands just ahead of the Dutch Parliamentary elections, President Recep Tayyip Erdo?an declared that the ?nation? would give a reply to the ?wrongful behaviour of the West? at the ballot box. Thus, he tries to get the nationalist right back into his fold and mobilise emigrant voters in countries like Germany, Austria and the Netherlands. In certain circles, such a campaign resonates. Therefore, West European politicians should keep a low profile regarding the Turkish referendum campaign.

According to the opinion polls, the ?Yes? and ?No? camps are of almost equal size. Extremely tense times are ahead in Turkey.

Posted: 31 Mar 2017

Recommended citation: Becker, Joachim (2017) 'Enthronisation of an ultra-presidential regime? Turkey at the crossroads', World Economy & Development In Brief, Issue 1-2/Jan-Jun, Luxembourg (