New Powers: Turkish Constitutional Referendum

WHAT IT IS

  • On April 16, the Turkish people voted on a referendum that would change the country’s constitution abolishing the role of prime minister and granting the president new, far-reaching powers.
  • The referendum passed but amongst widespread allegations of fraud and impropriety.
  • There have been widespread claims of ballot stuffing and voter intimidation as well as unfair footing for the opposition in the run up to the election with regards to media access and messaging.

WHY IT MATTERS

Turkey has been one of the U.S.’s strongest allies in the Middle East and, as a Muslim majority country with a secular government, it has been touted as an example to be followed by the rest of the region. Over the past few years, however, the country and its President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, have drifted towards authoritarianism, complicating its relationship with the West. This referendum moves Turkey further along that path.

  • THOSE WHO VOTED YES – “A leader we know”

    • The devil you know: Since Erdogan was elected Prime Minister Turkey has experienced a sustained period of growth and development, so citizens see no problems awarding him more powers.
    • Country in chaos: When there is instability – the country experienced a failed coup attempt this past summer, is currently battling two different terrorist campaigns, and shares a border with Syria and the refugee crisis – many people will trade democratic rights for a strong central figure who promises to control all of the issues.
  • THOSE WHO VOTED NO – “Too much power for one person”

    • Slippery slope: Granting this level of power to one man is dangerous for any democracy.
    • Erdogan himself: Erdogan has shown a thin skin to any criticism and has reacted by arresting and otherwise silencing any opposition; this vote gives him even more power to do this.

WHERE WE ARE NOW

  • Turkey’s main opposition party has appealed to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to challenge the election results.
  • If the election stands, most of the changes will take place after the next presidential election in 2019.
  • Despite Press Secretary Sean Spicer declaring that the White House will wait for the results of the election, President Trump called and congratulated President Erdogan on his victory, complicating matters and feeding criticism that the President’s White House is unorganized with no real direction.
  • Erdogan has continued his crackdown on opponents and dissidents, firing and detaining thousands of police officers and civil servants.

THINGS TO THINK ABOUT

  • If the ECHR rejects the election’s results, what then? What is the next step for Erdogan and the country?
  • If the results hold and Turkey continues on this authoritarian path, how will the United States treat this once very important ally?