The Turkish parliament has now passed amendments to amend Turkey’s constitution to convert Turkey from a parliamentary to a Presidential republic. These amendments must now be put to a vote in a referendum. Though victory is not assured, most observers agree they are likely to pass.
If the amendments do pass they will at one level simply formalise what is already the actual situation. Though President Erdogan is not nominally the head of Turkey’s government, he is universally considered both within Turkey and outside to be Turkey’s leader. It is President Erdogan, not Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım, whom Russian President Putin chooses to call when he wishes to discuss bilateral relations or the situation in Syria. The truth is that Erdogan dominates Turkey politically to an extent that no Turkish leader has done since the death of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.
Whether this concentration of power in Erdogan’s hands is the solution to Turkey’s problems is another matter. In Turkish terms Erdogan is an exceptionally gifted – even brilliant – politician, and he has a devoted base of support amongst the Turkish public. It was Erdogan’s successful mobilisation of this base which enabled him to defeat the army plotters who tried to stage a coup against him in July.
However Erdogan’s choices for Turkey have (to put it mildly) not always been wise, and there must anyway be a question mark about whether it is sensible to concentrate so much power in the hands of one individual in a country where dictatorship is still a recent memory.
Back in May I wrote for The Duran this assessment of Erdogan’s ambitions to convert himself into Turkey’s executive President
There are many examples around the world of successful Presidential republics. In such cases the President works within a strong constitutional and institutional structure which defines what he can do.What is happening in Turkey is that its already severely weakened constitutional and institutional structure is now being systematically dismantled by a politician – Erdogan – who accepts no limits on what he can do and who sees the law in purely functional terms as there to do what he wants.
The fact that Turkey’s next Prime Minister is most likely to be a member of Erdogan’s own family simply emphasises the point.
Turkey is evolving from a flawed but nonetheless functioning democracy into a form of one man rule where all the levers of power are held by one man who increasingly runs things through his own family.
Erdogan is regularly mocked as a phony Sultan. His own actions are now making that mockery true.
Turkey has never experienced anything quite like this since the creation of the Turkish republic in the 1920s. Whilst the Turkish republic has known periods of dictatorship they have never been narrowly centred on one individual and his family in quite this way – not even during the time of Kemal Attaturk. The key institution in all the previous cases of dictatorship – including during Kemal’s rule – was the army. In Erdogan’s Turkey the army has been neutered as a political force and is not the backbone of his rule.
Erdogan’s bid for power is disastrous for Turkey. His concentration of power in himself is bound to increase instability since his personal charisma and his family are far too narrow a power base to build a stable structure upon.
Nothing has happened since I wrote those words – before the July coup attempt – to make me change that assessment.