By Simay Cetín
As you may know, Turkey has been under the rule (or de facto sultanate) of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for a while now. On April 16th, a constitutional referendum will be held that is aimed at transforming the existing parliamentary system of the country into an executive presidential system. I will try to give you a little more insight into those proposed amendments, and briefly explain why we should not give executive powers to a man who prosecuted an innocent citizen for comparing him to Gollum from the Lord of the Rings. And yes, Peter Jackson did get involved. In defense of Bilgin Çiftçi, he claimed that the pictures depicted the benign alter ego of Gollum, known to us as Sméagol (for more information on this case you can Google it, or check out the picture that I posted below).
Here are a few articles that raised concern among Turkish citizens. Above all, the office of the prime minister will be abolished and all power from the ministers will be transferred to the president, who at this point, will be able to remain affiliated with a political party — even as a party leader. Considering that the candidates of the parliamentary elections are chosen by the party leaders, this would give the president control over both the executive and the legislative (RIP checks and balances). Moreover, the president will be able to appoint one or more vice presidents, who are going to be non-elected officials, replacing the president in case of death or disease. And what’s more, new impeachment procedures will be introduced, making it impossible that a president will ever be removed. A simple majority suffices to initiate the proceedings, but then a three-fifths majority is required to set up an Inquiry Commission. If the decision is in favor of sending the president to the Supreme Court (which is the Constitutional Court of Turkey), a two-thirds majority will be needed to back it up. Not to mention the fact that the president will be able to dissolve the parliament without providing any reason. For those who stopped reading after the first paragraph because they saw something funny on Sciences Po Memes Collective, or got stuck investigating the Erdoğan v. Çiftçi case, here’s a brief summary: the whole constitutional reform is designed to extend the powers of Erdoğan arbitrarily, so that the world’s “biggest jailer of journalists” (shoutout to BBC for the special title) can start issuing decrees and execute them at the same time.
Am I worried about the referendum? Most certainly. Do I think a “yes” vote is probable on April 16th? Not really, and here’s why: as many people oppose Erdoğan as support him, that is to say, Turkey is split 50/50. His success in the previous elections lies in the fact that he had the power to bring together his own supporters. The opposition, on the other hand, remained divided on religious, cultural and ethnic issues. Erdoğan may be an authoritarian figure with a touch of mild narcissism, but he is not a complete moron. His divisive rhetoric was aimed at strengthening the ties between his supporters and keeping the opposition disunited. The referendum, however, may bring the supporters of CHP, which is the main opposition party, and HDP, which is the pro-Kurdish party, together, eliminating ideological differences. On top of that, the AKP voters are surprisingly unsure about voting “yes.” They do not doubt the impeccable administrative skills of Erdoğan, but what if somebody else is elected as president in the future? What if it’s someone from CHP or HDP? The AKP voters are caricatured as being uneducated and brainwashed, yet some of them are aware that they are not voting for a man, bur for the empowerment of an office. I personally think that the Justice and Development Party is aware of that, which would explain their insistence on overseas campaigning. On January 23rd, university students who were campaigning for “no” on a commuter ferry were almost arrested for insulting the president. These measures are far from being moderate and seem to be driven by fear.
Then again, I also said that Brexit wouldn’t happen, and that Trump would not be elected. Therefore, in case of a “yes” vote, you are free to print this article and hang it around campus as a form of public humiliation.