Turkey was supposed to be a model for Egypt, but the picture is being reversed. Egypt, currently in the grips of an Islamist government, is turning out to be the model for Turkey. How so, one may ask? It has to do with the new Constitution that is being drafted for Turkey by the government, as well as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s dreams of becoming Turkey’s first executive president endowed with extraordinary powers.
In other words, we have a prime minister who wants to go the way of President Mohammed Morsi. The similarities are uncanny too. Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, in cooperation with the Egyptian Salafis, hurriedly penned a new Constitution for the country and submitted it to a lightning-quick referendum, and a crude majority accepted it.
But democracy is not about crude majorities when the matter in hand is a Constitution, which by definition, has to reach out to every segment of society to be considered genuinely democratic. The current turmoil in Egypt – where the object of vilification for many is no longer deposed president Hosni Mubarak, but “elected” President Mohammed Morsi – speaks for itself in this regard.
Erdoğan has spelled it out plainly. What he is basically saying is, “Listen folks, whether you like it or not, this draft Constitution will be accepted, and I will be president accordingly.” Meanwhile, the deputy head of his Justice and Development Party (AKP), Bekir Bozdağ, is on record saying they are “adamant about a presidential system for Turkey.”
The system that Erdoğan and Bozdağ are talking about is one where the president is free of any parliamentary or judicial system of checks and balances. Their argument in defense of this, on the other hand, is a highly simplistic one.
“To serve the people, we need to overcome debilitating parliamentary bickering.” This is what they are getting at. That “bickering,” however, is part of the democratic process in any true democracy. To hide behind the argument of wanting to serve the people in an unencumbered fashion is something that less then democratic leaders have traditionally done.
Put another way, what Erdoğan wants points to a dictatorship, albeit under another guise. He will no doubt deny this, and his supporters will undoubtedly argue that Erdoğan is a benign politician who is above dictatorial tendencies. But who is to guarantee this?
Especially when we already see ideologically driven interference by the AKP government in lifestyle issues, cultural events, and education that are hard to swallow for modern and secular elements of Turkish society.
Even if Erdoğan is a “benign” figure, despite his abrasive and vitriolic approach toward his political critics and rivals – which in fact reveals an innate tendency for authoritarianism – what guarantee is there that he will remain that way, or that his successor will be so, too?
There are indications now of growing cooperation between the AKP and the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) whose support Erdoğan may get in Parliament for his draft Constitution and the necessary referendum. The notion is that if the BDP gets what it wants in terms of Kurdish rights from the current negotiations between the government and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party
(PKK), then it will support the AKP.
If that is indeed the case, it will not only be ironic but will also force one to question the democratic credentials of the BDP. Especially if it endorses a draft Constitution which aims to introduce a system of government that is less than democratic, in return for what it believes will be political gains for the Kurds.
In that event, the Kurds may believe they have gained something in terms of their ethnic demands. But as citizens of a unified Turkey – regardless of how that “unity” is defined in the Constitution – which aspires to be genuinely democratic, they stand to lose like everyone else if we end up with a “constitutional dictatorship,” similar to the one developing in Egypt.