Cook­ing Turkey’s goose

Pres­i­dent Er­do­gan leads the na­tion to­ward a harsh au­thor­i­tar­ian era

The Washington Times Daily - - EDITORIAL -

Turkey has been bump­ing along on the ragged mar­gins of democ­racy for years. With this week’s slim ap­proval of a gov­ern­men­tal re­form ref­er­en­dum, Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan has pro­claimed that the na­tion can “change gears and con­tinue along our course more quickly.”

En­dorse­ment of his amend­ments to the Turk­ish con­sti­tu­tion are likely to steer the na­tion into a spi­der web of harsh and un­for­giv­ing au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism. With Turkey’s ap­pli­ca­tion for Euro­pean Union mem­ber­ship all but dead now, and its con­tin­ued role in NATO a du­bi­ous propo­si­tion, the West is en­ti­tled to shud­der.

The Er­do­gan-backed cam­paign for rad­i­cal change pre­vailed by the nar­row­est of mar­gins — 51.4 per­cent to 48.6 per­cent — and grants the pres­i­dent far-reach­ing new pow­ers, fore­most among them the way to com­plete the Is­lamiza­tion that will elim­i­nate Turkey as the con­ti­nen­tal link be­tween east and west that was es­tab­lished by Mustafa Ka­mal Ataturk, the founder of mod­ern Turkey. The con­sti­tu­tional amend­ments that bol­ster the pres­i­dent’s ex­ec­u­tive pow­ers elim­i­nates the of­fice of prime min­is­ter, en­ables the pres­i­dent to hold of­fice for two five-year terms and a third one with ap­proval of the Par­lia­ment, grants the pres­i­dent the free­dom to lead a po­lit­i­cal party, and awards him a lead­ing role in ap­point­ing judges.

The ra­zor-thin win­ning mar­gin has prompted charges of bal­lot fraud from op­po­si­tion po­lit­i­cal lead­ers, who say the gov­ern­ment “as­sisted” the Er­do­gan-backed “yes” vote. In­deed, Mr. Er­do­gan told the in­ter­na­tional mon­i­tors who sup­port claims of bal­lot fraud, “Know your place.” Pres­i­dent Trump, per­haps for­get­ting his place, couldn’t re­sist calling Mr. Er­do­gan with con­grat­u­la­tions he might want to re­call in the com­ing months.

The vote was sur­pris­ingly close, con­sid­er­ing that Mr. Er­do­gan put his heavy thumb on the scale, or­der­ing a crack­down on in­de­pen­dent news­pa­pers and the men and women who write for them, and the ar­rest of tens of thou­sands of “sus­pects” in the army in the wake of the at­tempted coup last July.

Mr. Er­do­gan tried to ex­port his in­flu­ence to ex­pa­tri­ate Turk­ish com­mu­ni­ties in the West. This re­sulted in a bit of back­lash in the Nether­lands, where the gov­ern­ment de­nied the Turk­ish for­eign min­is­ter en­try to cam­paign for the ref­er­en­dum among Turk­ish ex­pats. Mr. Er­do­gan for his part called un­friendly Euro­peans “Nazis,” and among other things hinted that he would re­store the death penalty for cer­tain crimes, which would make Turkey in­el­i­gi­ble for mem­ber­ship in the Euro­pean Union.

Mr. Er­do­gan is clearly no demo­crat. He once com­pared the pur­suit of democ­racy to a jour­ney by train: “You ride it un­til you ar­rive at your des­ti­na­tion, then you step off.” The pres­i­dent may have de­cided that this is where he and Turkey step off the train. The loss of Turkey as its east­ern buf­fer would be a par­tic­u­lar blow to the North At­lantic Treaty Or­ga­ni­za­tion. When Turkey joined NATO in 1952 many thought this would lead Turkey into full in­te­gra­tion with the West. Now Mr. Er­do­gan’s grow­ing hos­til­ity to Western val­ues, his purg­ing of his mil­i­tary to rid it of the rem­nants of demo­cratic im­pulse, and a tilt to­ward a harsh ver­sion of Is­lam puts in­te­gra­tion into the West in grave doubt.

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