For Turkish government, referendum is just the start

For Turkish government, referendum is just the start

As part of a group of journalists, I was recently talking to advisers who took an active part in drafting the constitutional amendments to be put to a public vote on April 16.

The draft foresees consolidation of all executive power in the presidency, with more presidential influence over the judiciary (through the appointment of high judges) and the parliament (as the president will be allowed to stay as the head of his party).

The advisers did not give permission to be quoted directly, so I will just pass on my impressions based on what they said:

* The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) does not see the referendum as the final reform, or as the end of its struggle with the former establishment ongoing for its 14 years in power, but as the start of a second phase. The answers we received to our questions about a new electoral system, including the powers of deputy presidents and the lack of a prime minister, showed that these details are planned to be fixed later, depending on future circumstances. Indeed, this could perhaps be derived from President Tayyip Erdoğan’s promises about further systemic changes - such as holding referendums on reinstating the death penalty or ending Turkey’s EU accession process - if the result of the April 16 referendum is “yes.”

* The conceptual framework of the constitutional shift and the consolidation of power is drawn around the “need for a ‘strong state’ in the 21st century.” This argument can be summarized as follows: The strict separation of powers was perhaps a need for the Western democracies after the Second World War, but it was soon understood that this was not working. Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan in the 1980s were the vanguard of the return to “strong governments,” while the attitude in Europe today is to choose the welfare state over liberal democracy if necessary, as demonstrated by the migration crisis. The advisers argue that Turkey today needs a “strong state,” which was not possible under the parliamentary government system, which brought about duality. They say the executive presidential system, or the “Turkish-style presidential government system” as Erdoğan likes to call it, is an attempt to create a “strong state in democracy.”

* The aim of building this “strong state,” which will begin as soon as the constitutional changes are approved on April 16, is to make Turkey “one of the poles” in a new “multipolar world,” which we are all at the threshold of. The advisers argue that Turkey could be a voice for all “oppressed nations, not limited to the Islamic world.” Such a vision is clear from when President Erdoğan voices the slogan “The world is bigger than five,” meaning that the fate of the peoples of the world must not be decided solely by the will of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, which all have a vetoing power. Erdoğan’s “2023 targets,” marking the 100th year of the Turkish Republic, are actually aimed at achieving this goal.
In essence, the AK Parti mindset foresees the building of a “strong Turkish state” once the April 16 referendum is approved, with the aim of becoming one of the poles in the multipolar world ahead of us. For the team behind this project, the referendum is only the beginning of such a process, not the end.