Turkey’s outlook a year after the April 2017 referendum
April 16 will mark one year since Turkey’s controversial referendum that resulted in a drastic change in the administrative system, from a parliamentary model to an executive presidency.
The “Yes” bloc composed of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) officially received 51.4 percent of the votes in the referendum, while the “No” bloc that included the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), the İYİ (Good) Party and the Felicity Party (SP) garnered 48.6 percent of the vote.
Although it is only due to be fully implemented after the November 2019 parliamentary election, the new model has already partially gone into practice, after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was elected head of the AKP in early May 2017.
Throughout this period, the AKP government has continued to rule the country through decree laws under the state of emergency, while amending the Election Law and the Political Parties Law at parliament. Changes to the Election Law have sparked serious concerns over ballot box security, while amendments to the Political Parties Law have allowed the AKP and the MHP to form what they call a “People’s Alliance” for the 2019 elections.
The argument frequently raised by the AKP-MHP duo suggests that this new governance model will help Turkey resolve all of its problems, boosting its economy and even improving democratic standards. They also cite the fight against terrorism inside and outside Turkey, as well as clearing the state apparatus from remaining members of the movement of U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, as areas where the government will be much more efficient under this new model.
However, apart from the last two areas it is hard to observe significant improvements in the state of the economy and democracy since the approval of the new governance system. On the economy, the value of the Turkish Lira is constantly plunging against the U.S. dollar and the euro, with apparently no viable ways to stabilize it. The government’s pressure on the Central Bank prevents the introduction of necessary monetary measures and much-anticipated structural reforms are unlikely on the horizon. Just to note: 1 U.S. dollar was 3.62 TL on April 17, 2017, while it was 4.06 on April 13, 2018.
Turkey achieved a remarkable growth rate of 7.4 percent in 2017, making it the second fastest growing country in the OECD after Ireland. However, that growth has had little impact in terms of generating new employment, while the current account deficit has continued to increase. Amid geopolitical uncertainties, experts urge more monetary and structural measures, but these have not been taken because triple elections loom in 2019.
Democracy and human rights constitute another area where improvements cannot be observed. The European Commission’s latest annual “progress report” for Turkey is expected to be released on April 17, and there are indications that it will be one of the worst reports on Turkey’s state of democracy and human rights so far. Indeed, a few months after the April 2017 referendum the Council of Europe voted in favor of launching a “monitoring” mechanism on Turkey due to the deteriorated state of democratic norms in the country.
Education seems to be another important area where problems have only multiplied over the past year. A substantial overhaul of the education system carried out by the government has left millions of families in the dark over the future of their children’s schooling.
On foreign policy, a gradual normalization with European countries became possible after Turkey’s referendum and elections in prominent EU member states. However, ties between Turkey and the U.S. have long been suffering due to a number of different reasons. At the same time, Ankara’s relations with Russia have been in a process of unprecedented development both bilaterally and on Syria. That is why in a statement on April 12, President Erdoğan underlined that Turkey’s ties with Russia and Iran are “not an alternative to its ties to the West but complementary to them.”
As for domestic political balances, there are still arrested lawmakers and a number of ongoing prosecutions against many others. The AKP-MHP alliance has pushed other parties to form their own alliances, because the world-highest 10 percent election threshold has not been reduced. Political experts continue to urge about the threat of continued polarization in Turkey, which is often accompanied by angry, harshly worded quarrels between political leaders.
In short, it is fair to say that adoption of the new executive presidency model has so far not been very effective in resolving Turkey’s key problems.