Er­do­gan un­likely to last, but dam­age al­ready done

The Observer (Sarnia) - - OPINION - GWYNNE DYER — Gwynne Dyer is an in­de­pen­dent jour­nal­ist based in Lon­don, Eng­land.

“The of­fice of the Pres­i­dent of the Re­ich is uni­fied with the of­fice of the Chan­cel­lor. Con­se­quently all former pow­ers of the Pres­i­dent of the Re­ich are demised to the Führer and Chan­cel­lor of the Re­ich Adolf Hitler. He him­self nom­i­nates his sub­sti­tute. Do you, Ger­man man and Ger­man wo­man, ap­prove of this reg­u­la­tion pro­vided by this Law?”

Adolf Hitler’s 1934 referendum, abol­ish­ing the of­fice of prime min­is­ter (chan­cel­lor) and con­cen­trat­ing all power in his own hands, was the fi­nal step in con­sol­i­dat­ing his con­trol of Ger­many. Turkey’s Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan, who has just won a referendum abol­ish­ing the of­fice of prime min­is­ter and con­cen­trat­ing all power in his own hands, is not an­other Hitler, but he is start­ing to look like an­other Putin.

He didn’t win his referendum by Hitler’s 88 per cent ma­jor­ity, of course. He didn’t even win it by the nar­row 52-48 per cent that de­cided the United King­dom’s Brexit referendum last June. He only got 51.3 per cent of the vote, against 48.7 per cent for keep­ing Turkey’s ex­ist­ing par­lia­men­tary sys­tem. But it’s still a vic­tory, and if Er­do­gan can go on win­ning elec­tions, he could have al­most ab­so­lute power in Turkey un­til 2029.

He can cer­tainly go on win­ning elec­tions for a while be­cause his sup­port is rock-solid among the half of the pop­u­la­tion who felt op­pressed by the sec­u­lar state cre­ated by Ataturk al­most a cen­tury ago. His Is­lamism is the main source of his po­lit­i­cal sup­port, and the de­vout will go on vot­ing for him no mat­ter what he does. You al­most won­der why he both­ered with this referendum.

He al­ready has al­most ab­so­lute power in prac­tice. Since the at­tempted coup last July, the coun­try has been un­der a state of emer­gency. The gov­ern­ment con­trols al­most all the mass me­dia. About 150 jour­nal­ists, 13 mem­bers of par­lia­ment and at least 45,000 other peo­ple are un­der ar­rest, and up­wards of 130,000 — aca­demics, judges, po­lice, teach­ers and civil ser­vants — have been fired on sus­pi­cion of dis­loy­alty.

With those who urged “no” to the con­sti­tu­tional changes be­ing pub­licly de­nounced as coup-plot­ters, traitors and ter­ror­ists, it’s re­mark­able al­most half the pop­u­la­tion still dared to vote against Er­do­gan’s plan.

He can dis­miss par­lia­ment, en­act laws by decree, de­clare a state of emer­gency and di­rectly ap­point se­nior of­fi­cials and judges. He can be a demo­cratic leader if he wants, but he can also be a dic­ta­tor if he likes.

It is a pity, for Turkey was turn­ing into a gen­uinely demo­cratic coun­try. Five years ago there was still a free press, civil lib­er­ties were gen­er­ally re­spected, the econ­omy was thriv­ing and the coun­try was at peace. And much of this was at least partly due to Er­do­gan’s own ef­forts.

The few re­main­ing free me­dia out­lets are un­der siege, civil rights are a joke, the econ­omy has plunged into re­ces­sion, and the coun­try is at war. And this is mostly Er­do­gan’s fault.

At least 2,000 peo­ple have died in the war against Kur­dish sep­a­ratists in the past year, and 500 have been killed in ter­ror­ist at­tacks in the big cities. Or­di­nary Turks are shaken by all the vi­o­lence, and at least half of them clearly don’t buy Er­do­gan’s ex­pla­na­tion that evil for­eign­ers who hate Turks are to blame for it all. Un­for­tu­nately the other half, mostly pi­ous, ru­ral, and/or ill-ed­u­cated, be­lieves it all and sees him as the coun­try’s saviour.

Er­do­gan is un­likely to last un­til 2029: the fail­ing econ­omy and the wars will grad­u­ally drag him down. But he has di­vided the coun­try so deeply with his de­ter­mi­na­tion to “re-Is­lamize” Turkey that an at­tempt to oust him, even by demo­cratic means, could eas­ily end in a civil war. What has hap­pened to Turkey is a tragedy, and it’s hard to see a safe way back.

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