Turkey’s drift from democ­racy

Rome News-Tribune - - EDITORIALS AND OPINION - From The Chicago Tribune

Turkey’s steady march to­ward dic­ta­tor­ship just went into full gal­lop. Vot­ers on Sun­day nar­rowly ap­proved a raft of con­sti­tu­tional changes that shift even more power to Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan, who al­ready main­tains an iron grip over his coun­try.

Begin­ning in 2019, the post of prime min­is­ter will dis­ap­pear, and Er­do­gan can make Cabi­net ap­point­ments with­out any par­lia­men­tary over­sight. His con­trol over the coun­try’s ju­di­ciary will ex­pand. He can also dis­solve par­lia­ment at any time, for any rea­son. And, start­ing with the 2019 elec­tions, Er­do­gan, who took power as prime min­is­ter in 2003, can run for two more fiveyear terms.

Er­do­gan’s mar­gin of vic­tory was ra­zor-thin, and there were strong in­di­ca­tions that the vote was far from fair. In­ter­na­tional elec­tion ob­servers crit­i­cized the de­ci­sion by Turk­ish elec­tion of­fi­cials to al­low as valid more than a mil­lion bal­lots that had been cast with­out an of­fi­cial stamp.

With­out the stamp, au­thor­i­ties can’t be sure those bal­lots aren’t fraud­u­lent. Dur­ing the cam­paign, au­thor­i­ties ar­rested a lead­ing op­po­si­tion politi­cian cam­paign­ing against the “Yes” move­ment and cracked down on jour­nal­ists crit­i­cal of the ref­er­en­dum.

An un­demo­cratic elec­tion shouldn’t sur­prise any­one, given Er­do­gan’s track record for au­thor­i­tar­ian gov­er­nance. Af­ter a failed coup at­tempt, his gov­ern­ment ar­rested more than 40,000 per­ceived op­po­nents of the regime and purged more than 100,000 from their gov­ern­ment jobs. Er­do­gan blamed the coup at­tempt on his pri­mary po­lit­i­cal ri­val, Fethul­lah Gulen, a Mus­lim cleric who once was a close Er­do­gan ally and who now lives in Penn­syl­va­nia. Wash­ing­ton has re­jected Ankara’s re­quests for Gulen’s ex­tra­di­tion, say­ing Turkey must con­vince U.S. courts that there’s enough ev­i­dence to charge Gulen with a crime.

So far, the West has re­acted to the elec­tion with mea­sured crit­i­cism. The State Depart­ment said ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties on the day of the elec­tion and the run-up to it led to an “un­even play­ing field” in fa­vor of the “Yes” move­ment.

Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel said the close vote re­flected the deep di­vi­sions within Turk­ish so­ci­ety, and she urged Er­do­gan loy­al­ists and op­po­si­tion lead­ers to talk out their dif­fer­ences.

If Western lead­ers choose their words care­fully about Turkey, it’s be­cause they have to. Turkey is a NATO mem­ber in­te­gral to the fight against Is­lamic State in Syria. It al­lows the U.S. to use an air base at In­cir­lik for its airstrikes and drone flights into Syria.

It also has pro­vided haven to more than 3 mil­lion Syr­ian refugees and has a deal with Euro­pean lead­ers to keep refugees from trav­el­ing on to Europe.

But if Turkey is go­ing to ful­fill its decades-long goal to join the Euro­pean Union, it needs Western back­ing. Ex­pect­ing Er­do­gan to re­form isn’t re­al­is­tic, but that doesn’t mean Europe should com­pro­mise its prin­ci­ples for EU in­clu­sion. Those prin­ci­ples re­quire EU ap­pli­cant na­tions to main­tain “sta­ble in­sti­tu­tions guar­an­tee­ing democ­racy, the rule of law, hu­man rights.” Turkey is veer­ing away from — rather than ap­proach­ing — those prin­ci­ples.

Er­do­gan also has been talk­ing about hold­ing a ref­er­en­dum on the re­in­state­ment of the death penalty, which would nix the coun­try’s bid for EU mem­ber­ship.

Er­do­gan can’t have it both ways. He can’t run roughshod over demo­cratic prin­ci­ples and then ex­pect the EU to wel­come Turkey, no ques­tions asked. Turkey’s too valu­able in the fight against Is­lamic State to treat like a pariah. But it’s not so valu­able that the Euro­pean com­mu­nity should aban­don core ideals it ap­plies to other coun­tries that join.

Letters to the ed­i­tor: Ro­man Fo­rum, Post Of­fice Box 1633, Rome, GA 30162-1633 or email MColombo@RN-T.com

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