Turkish referendum: six questions and six answers for a “NO”


[Instanbul, Lisbon, 08.04.2017_EN]

On Sunday 16th Turkey will be a great scenario for the future of democracy of Middle East, and Mediterranean Area. What is at stake in turkish Constitutional referendum? Sure, much more than western public opinion can suppose. President Erdogan’s aims on Syria, his desdain for democracy, turkish society in front of its changes, and the ineptitude of E.U.: why it is so important to vote and to support “NO”.

Turkey is going through a very difficult period, as all Middle East. The strange “coup” of last year gave to President Erdogan the possibility to ratify emergency laws and to limit his opposition. Why this referendum is so important? Which form of democracy Erdogan thinks at?

I want to start with answering the last question first. The form of democracy that Erdogan is thinking in fact is not a democracy. The format he has in his mind is somewhat mixture of Putin Russia and Saudi Kingdom. Exactly as geographical position of Turkey. Putin style strong figurehead with low profile affiliates while oppressing his political opponents and Saudi style family business model country management which cannot be interrupted by any form of legal control mechanism. Of course, there will always be some kind of elections but this more for changing the low-profile politicians whom will be always selected by him. Turkey’s election system allows party leaders to hand pick whoever they want and present them as candidates of any city/district they think is suitable. That practically destroys internal opposition of political parties as MPs know that they have no chance of being re-elected unless they have good relations with party leadership and party leadership means party leader.

So before the “strange” coup, Erdogan was still after his state model which he calls Turkish model Presidential system but his party was not strong enough in the parliament to push for a constitutional change even with a referendum. After the coup, he had a chance to use emergency powers to run the country as he is pleased with government executive orders without parliamentary confirmation. These executive orders were ranging from closing NGOs, media or sacking of government employees without any court order or even about canceling daily TV Shows about finding bride/groom. Most of the executive orders were illegal as no executive order can be about a duration after the end of emergency power. But well, who can stop him in this environment?

After a while some impossible to explain situation happened as Nationalist party that was a strongly opposing Erdogan decided to help him to change constitution and very rapidly two parties created the new draft with completely ignoring republican and Kurdish parties.

Why this referendum is so important? Actually, it is the last chance of Turkish people while they can have a say about how they want this country to be ruled. Because the proposed changes of the constitution will give Erdogan rights to rule country completely single handedly, destroying any remnant of Turkish democracy. Like:

  1. The president will become the head of the executive branch and will be allowed to issue decrees and become the head of government as prime ministry will be abolished.

  2. The president will be allowed to retain ties to a political party. So that he will be both head of government and also the picker of MPs who are supposed to “control” him.

  3. Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors which is responsible for choosing the judges of higher judiciary is renamed to “Board of Judges and Prosecutors”, members are reduced to 13 from 22. And how they are being elected with this propose? 4, directly by president 7 by the parliament whose majority MPs are handpicked by president, and one member is the Justice Minister (appointed by President) and last person is Ministry of Justice Undersecretary (appointed by Justice Minister). So frankly speaking Supreme Board of Judges will be a satellite of president too.

  4. The President and three-fifths of the Parliament can decide to renew elections. Basically, if president does not like the state of parliament he can renew elections.

In short, current weak separation of powers of Turkey state will be completely removed and president although can be elected by 50%+1 of voters will be the sole decision maker of 100% of population.

A. Which is the geopolitical vision of Erdogan? Which kind of relation he wants to develop with Russia and with America governed by Trump administration?

I am afraid Erdogan has no strong geopolitical vision. His role model is Red Sultan (Abdulhamid II) of Ottoman Empire, who used the strategical position of sick Ottoman Empire to create a balance between world powers. Sometimes getting closer to British and French, sometimes (and ultimately) getting close to Germans and paving the way of destruction of the country. Current Turkish Foreign Affairs is in complete chaos as nobody can determine how Turkey will react. Just to look one – two years back, as a NATO country Turkey shot down a Russian plane with pride, then decided to befriend Russia against USA, then again befriended with USA, then got angry to USA for harboring alleged coup ring leader, then 2 days ago decided to support Trump for bombing Syria. Basically, Turkey is now changing alliances as changing shirts.

Erdogan’s Neo Ottomanist politics creating a lot of problem with almost all border countries and European Union. Erdogan wants to be part of an alliance which would not create problems for him like human rights or democracy. So European Union will be the first thing that he will get rid of if he gets his new constitution. He likes Putin and Shanghai Five but both Russia and Iran are traditional rivals of Turkey in the region which limits possibilities of playing together. Erdogan wants to change Asad with a Sunni Islamist leadership which neither Iran nor Russia would allow. For this reason, only traditional allies of Erdogan would be Saudis or some oil rich gulf states who would finance him for their Sunni islamist agendas which forces him to play nice with Israel and USA as no supporting Arab state is strong enough to equalize Russia and Iran. As you can easily understand Middle East is more complicated than ever today.

Trump administration with hawkish politics might be a good option for Erdogan if he can prove himself more useful to Trump agenda than Kurds who are bridgehead of USA in Syria. If somehow Trump goes too hard and starts military action against Syria, Erdogan will definitely try to be involved and can attack Syria too forgetting Kurds for a while. This is a huge risk for world peace as it can trigger many sided hot conflict in the middle east.

His relations against European Union will be always for inner politics consumption of nationalistic votes. He can never risk destroying trade with European Union as Turkish economy cannot handle the loss as it is very fragile now. I think he will push Europe to finish Turkey – EU relations than being the one who will get his hands dirty. He will gladly use Syrian refugees for blackmailing Europe so that he can keep getting what he wants from Europe. Keep getting what he wants in not necessarily money but political crisis that he can use within Turkey to get Turkish public opinion support him against European hypocrisy.

A. Many terrorist attacks shocked Turkey recently. What we know about? Can we speak about a “strategy of tension” as the Italian one?

There is definitely a strategy of tension in Turkey. This being said, although I anticipated a big attack or other kind of provocation, nothing that sort of happened for the last 2 months. I don’t think that all terror attacks are under control of Erdogan as he cannot control the ISIS vermin whom he indirectly supported by doing nothing against them while he could. I think ISIS has many cells in Turkey that can be activated and can hurt many people

A. How important is now the power of Turkish Army, historically the defense of the laical Constitution?

Today, Turkish army is no more a political player of Turkey politics. That would have been a good thing if it happened by democratization of the country. Instead Erdogan eradicated the Republican Part of the army who could oppose him with the help of his former ally Fetullah Gulen. From 2007 to 2013 many soldiers have been imprisoned, killed in prison due to bad conditions or even ended their own lives because of fake accusations for being terrorists. After that many positions that is freed from republican wing of army was filled with disciples of Fetullah Gulen the religious cleric under control of CIA(as a project for creating a moderate islamist leadership in Muslim majority countries).

And as a result same disciples executed the “strange” coup against him. Basically after Erdogan wanted to get rid of Gulenist movement as he saw that he cannot control them and actually Gulenists almost got the control of all state institutions (of course with complete support of Erdogan with all kinds of illegal ways). Ultimately this lead the situation of today, a referendum that is giving the keys of Turkish state to Erdogan. In the end who won in the long run?

Today Turkish army is broken in morale and not a defender of secular regime anymore. In fact islamization of Turkish army is going at full speed. As headscarved girls are promoted to become fighter pilots, military academies are being abolished to create national defense universities etc…

A. Which chances have democratic people, and specifically the Left, in case of victory of Erdogan?

 In case of a victory of Erdogan, best chance of democratic people from any political alignment would be waiting for the death of Erdogan and use the power struggle after him. Because he will ultimately become more authoritarian and oppression of opposition would be much more violent either economically or simply literally. Though this is also very dangerous as it could also lead to a future civil war based on how Erdogan will try shaping Turkey. Left is already very weak in Turkey, mostly strong in higher education would be systematically removed from their positions under Erdogan’s rule. If somehow another “Gezi” happens, it will be suppressed brutally shown as a coup against Erdogan.

So left has to everything to stop him for this referendum. It is a survival matter now.

A. How many “Turkeys” we have in front of us, at this moment?

Ah, many many possibilities. Let’s try to simplify with two most likely scenarios:

If yes: Erdogan would get the ultimate power and he will accelerate the islamization of Turkey while distancing from west but still as a valuable partner as Turkey’s location is very crucial for world politics as a bridge from Middle east to Europe. Most probably USA would still try to have Turkey under control accepting it even if Turkey becomes a dictatorship as they do with SISI of Egypt. Turkey would have border clashes with Greece. Northern Cyprus will be most likely annexed. And it is completely unpredictable how Middle East will be shaped as bigger players will be the decision makers. But Turkey may find itself in unnecessary hot conflicts as Erdogan as a reformist would try to appease his neo ottoman ambitions endangering lives of Turkish people.

If No : That is more unpredictable. Erdogan may try to increase the tension in Turkey and somewhat punish Turkish public for not giving him the presidency he desired. In this case most probably in a short while we can expect an early election. Most probably nationalist party would be destroyed merged with AKP and some increase of Republican party votes. Kurdish party which will be under constant attack and leadership prisoned will be forced below 10% election threshold. Thus creating a parliament with 2 parties with 65% Erdogan party and 35% Republicans. Erdogan will get all the laws he desired and will definitely try again for presidency. In the meantime economy will most probably will not able to hold any longer and a big downfall may happen. What comes next is also depends on world politics.

A. What is at stake for our generation (80th born), in Turkey?

Our generation will have two options. Either accept the fate do nothing for the referendum or give everything to stop Erdogan get the power now. Because if Erdogan gets what he wants Turkey will no longer be the country that democracy can flourish. Either you move somewhere else and miss your country forever or be silent and hope they don’t touch you. And believe me they will touch you soon or later. No is very much obvious as answer to referendum is not the question. Question is how much we can influence others to vote no. We have to work hard and also need to guard the ballots during referendum as you can expect anything happening in a case of neck to neck situation. This is really a life or death situation as there is nowhere left to run now. We need support from all parts of civil world not to fuel Erdogan’s campaign as he used Netherlands crisis to his advantage for both Turks of Europe and Turkey.