Recep Tayyip Erdogan is the winner of the Turkish elections, he will be the president of Turkey until 2023.
Erdogan’s impact on shaping Turkey’s political life is of such magnitude that one can only compare him to the founder of the modern Turkey state, Kemal Ataturk. Of course, the main difference between these two statesmen is that for Ataturk the Ottoman past of Turkey was an anathema, while for Erdogan it is a source of pride.
Even with the Turkish lira in freefall and the interest rates skyrocketing, he won a 52.5% of the vote. Critics say that this is because the elections were not exactly free and fair.
The most important part of these elections though, is the total revamp in power for the office of the president. Approved by a referendum in 2017, the new system makes the government in Turkey a one man show, and dangerously so, one might say.
The president is now head of state and head of government, as he is granted executive powers, which resulted in the abolition of the office of the prime minister. He can appoint ministers and vice presidents; the office of the vice president now can only be vacated by a direct appointment. He can also appoint judges.
The parliament has the capability to impeach the president with a two thirds majority, but since the final decision will come from the constitutional court — whose members are appointed by the president — it is easy to understand why Europe doesn’t feel too comfortable with these changes. The Union’s legal committee dims them as precursory to autocratic rule.
Turkey brands the change as simply a shift towards a system of presidential democracy and as a progressive liberal move, as the president is now elected directly by the people. The military courts have been abolished, limiting whatever power the armed forces had left in politics: don’t forget that in Turkey the armed forces are the guarantees of the constitution.
Could Turkey become a legitimate autocracy? Unfortunately, this is a worrisome possibility. Having lost some of its geopolitical importance in the 90s since the dissolution of the USSR, the terrorist attacks of 9/11 that lead the U.S. armed forces to operate to Afghanistan and then to Iraq gave them back their status as a necessary ally, despite their refusal to cooperate sometimes. With Syria going up in flames and with Russia’s annexation of Crimea and turning up the heat to Cold War 2.0, Turkey’s value on the market went even higher. The status of a needed partner gives ample wiggle room to Erdogan who does not hesitate to test the waters or even dive head first into them, as he did in Afrin.
Featured image: Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan waves to supporters during the last rally ahead of Sunday’s referendum, in Istanbul, Saturday, April 15, 2017. Turkey is heading to a contentious referendum on constitutional reforms to expand Erdogan’s powers. | AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis