TURKEY goes to the polls tomorrow to vote on the proposed radical change of the constitution. If the ‘yes’ vote prevails it would replace the parliamentary system of government with a presidential system that would do away with the prime minister’s office, blur the separation of powers integral to a democracy and give the president/head of state despotic powers. Opponents of the proposed changes argue, correctly, a ‘yes’ victory would end democracy in Turkey and set up a ‘sultanate’ in which President Erdogan would operate like an elected dictator.
The irony is that things would be no different from the current situation. Erdogan has been acting like an executive president with dictatorial powers, in violation of Turkey’s constitution, since his election to the post in 2014. He has used the state of emergency he declared after the failed, July 2016 coup to fire or suspend 125,000 people from ministries, schools, universities, the police, the army and justice system of whom more than 30,000 are in prison awaiting trial. Media organisations that opposed him have been shut down and 150 journalists are in prison.
Had he not abused the state of emergency in this way, his argument that a presidential system would ensure strong and stable government, after decades of weak coalition government at the mercy of Turkey’s deep state that was reflected in a struggling economy, would have had some merit. But his post-coup actions would suggest that his objective to concentrate all powers in the presidency, subverting institutions and limiting the accountability of the executive. As ‘no-voters’ have been saying if Erdogan wins the referendum he would establish one-man rule in Turkey.
One Western newspaper commentator, while conceding he would never be the type of democrat approved by the EU, argued that “a stronger Erdogan, acting within constitutional constraints, is what Turkey and the Middle East needs at the moment,” as he could “become an important stabilising force in Syria.” This is the best-case scenario for the West, which would like to see Turkey’s regional authority growing as the Assad regime’s days are coming to an end and Russia’s influence over Damascus weakening.
How would Cyprus and the settlement talks that resume next week be affected by the referendum result? What would benefit Cyprus – victory for the ‘yes vote’ or for the ‘no-vote? A victorious and confident Erdogan, in theory, could be more inclined to sanction the compromises that would lead to an agreement in the Cyprus talks. But this is nothing more than speculation, as nobody could safely predict how Turkey’s president would behave, win or lose, after the referendum