The referendum in Turkey has consolidated power in one man. A Recep Tayyip Erdogan more firmly ensconced in the top job — now the only top job — of his country with far greater powers at his disposal comes as no surprise.
Although some segments of the populace of Turkey, particularly the Kurds, had been in favour of maintaining status quo with parliamentary democracy, the ‘NO’ votes have obviously not had their say in the close fight which involved 86 per cent of the electorate.
By some accounts, the results may have been manipulated by the last-minute decision of the electoral board to accept unstamped ballots as valid votes and is likely to be legally contested.
But as of now Erdogan may have sealed his position at least till 2029.
Erdogan’s victory, which evidently leads to authoritarianism, is a worry particularly with his regime having already jailed, pending trial, 47,000 people and dismissed or suspended from their jobs 1,20,000 others following the failed coup last July.
Victory at the referendum has given the leader unquestionable power that he would undoubtedly exercise. The result of the referendum allows the enforcement of 18 amendments that, among other things, would abolish the office of prime minister and give the president the authority to draft the budget, declare a state of emergency and issue decrees overseeing ministries without parliamentary approval.
His allies and foes are likely to have different reactions: his win must reassure the US, worry Russia, and make NATO antsy. But above everything else the victory is a blow to democracy and a sign of growing disillusionment, probably worldwide, with such inclusive systems.
The way the country has voted indicates that the people, or rather the majority, are seeking reforms they believe the vesting of powers at one point will be able to deliver. Turks favouring change are not worried about the authoritarian system given their experience with Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey. But no authoritarian regime has been able to provide sustainable leadership dovetailed with growth for all.
Erdogan’s regime represents an increasingly intolerant system that has curtailed freedoms of the people, particularly those it considers to be involved in any way with the failed coup d` état. Journalists have been jailed and dozens of media outlets closed on charges of terrorist propaganda to insulting the president.
The Turkish President has brought in restrictions on the sale of alcohol and abortion, and women were urged to have more children. Work was started on a mosque that was to be the biggest in Turkey on protected forest land. Earlier the rising complaints, that Erdogan is bent towards Islamists, had weakened Turkey’s defences and allowed jihadist cells to grow in the country.
The policy of Ankara to attack the Kurdish forces in Syria has also drawn retaliatory strikes from the PKK. Against the backdrop of alienation of sections of the Turkish society, which had developed on the principles of pluralism and secularism that Ataturk had espoused, Erdogan’s increasingly biased rule appears poised to deliver a body blow to the fabric of a country that sits across the continental divide. He will need to talk turkey on reforms to make things work for the country rather than pursuing a conservationist agenda.
Erdogan does not stand alone today. The rising intolerance that is being viewed all across the globe seems to offer him company, great powerful company. This thought process is probably growing in many countries, including India. Centralisation of power in the hands of any individual damages democracy. Be it Turkey or India.