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Dr. Muhammad Ali Ehsan |

Recep Tayyip Erdogan was already ruling Turkey under a state of emergency but with Sunday’s YES majority (51.7%) vote, the Turkish President has now, through the 16 April constitutional referendum, put himself in another league. Most people now consider him to have become an elected dictator.

Will Mr. Erdogan be able to defend both Turkey’s Muslim identity as well as its pluralistic values? Will he turn away from the West (EU being the biggest trading partner of Turkey) and reorient his foreign policy eastwards (court Russia and Gulf monarchies)?

Turkey, as a frontier state to Europe, not only fights a battle against freedom-seeking Kurds in the southeast but also guards and defends against the extremist violence creeping into its heartland out of the war-torn neighboring Syria. Erdogan’s desire is to abandon the parliamentary system (though the parliament will continue to exist and operate) for an executive presidency. He has become a constitutionally empowered and strident and authoritarian commander in chief of the Turkish Armed Forces and the head of the state, what will his priorities be?

Read more: Erdogan’s win splits Turkey in half, opposition out on streets

Will Mr. Erdogan be able to defend both Turkey’s Muslim identity as well as its pluralistic values? Will he turn away from the West (EU being the biggest trading partner of Turkey) and reorient his foreign policy eastwards – by courting Russia and Gulf monarchies? Will his attention shift to Asia where the world’s power and economic balance is shifting? Will he use democracy to build bridges internally to resolve the 30-year-old conflict with PKK (Kurd militia) or act as a powerful monarch to bulldoze dissent? How will he treat the opposition in Turkey? There are a host of questions that need answering.

Erdogan surfacing as a ‘Sultan’

Now the Turkish parliament will not control the details of spending or have a say over the presidential appointments. Neither will it be able to subject the cabinet to questions.

The Economist, April 15, 2017, has run two very interesting and hard hitting reports titled ‘The Slide into dictatorship’ and ‘On the razor’s edge’ on Mr. Erdogan’s role as a President in a post-constitutional referendum in Turkey. The reports suggest that Mr. Erdogan’s push towards the referendum and his further accumulation of power was only made possible because people’s support was with him. His narrative all along (first elected as PM elected in 2003) has been that “only a strong leader (now President) can generate political stability and galvanize the state to see off its enemies”.

Turkey, now to be ruled under an executive presidency, will retain a parliament but will abolish the office of the Prime Minister. The report in The Economist describes the now powerful Turkish president as ‘term-limited sultan’ and the parliament as ‘his court’. It further states that now “the Turkish parliament will not control the details of spending or have a say over the presidential appointments. Neither will it be able to subject the cabinet to questions. The new constitution allows Mr. Erdogan to retain control over his party, giving him powers to handpick parliamentary candidates.”

Read more: Regional dynamics ensure that Erdogan’s ‘rigged’ referendum will be overlooked

With the new constitution allowing him (Erdogan) to retain control of his party, he will now handpick the parliamentary candidates and “those who challenge him will have to pay a heavy price”.

Is Turkey really sliding towards a democratic dictatorship? Considering its history (Turkey had 64 governments in 94 years as a republic) would the people support an absolute Sultan to rule Turkey? The majority yes vote that Mr. Erdogan managed in the referendum was preceded by some very harsh actions (in the name of democracy and rule of law) that he unleashed in the country. Had people not approved of such actions would they come out in majority and vote and further empower him like they did?

The strict measures have been rewarded

The victory by yes vote in the referendum means that the people of Turkey in majority supported some of the harsh actions that Mr. Erdogan undertook post the failed coup in July 2015. The Economist reports highlight some of these actions which include: military action in the southeast of Turkey in which thousands of Kurdish activists were killed and captured, the arrest or sacking of 168 generals (half of the total generals that the armed forces had), removal of over 4000 members of the judiciary, closing of more than 160 media outlets, detaining and jailing 6300 academics, and other similar acts.

Mr. Erdogan is also quoted in the report as having said that:

“There is no difference between a terrorist with a gun and a bomb in his hand and those who use their work and pen to support terror… MP, academic, journalist, author or the director of an NGO.”

Underscoring the likely treatment that the Turkish media may encounter under the all-powerful President Erdogan, The Economist narrates an incident of Turkish journalist’s acquittal and re-arrest in the past.

Read more: Is Erdoğan losing his grip on a dangerously divided Turkey

“On March 30, 2017, twenty-one journalists who were suspected of being Gulenists were acquitted. The journalists were re-arrested before they could leave prison, 13 of them on new charges of attempting to overthrow the new government.” It says that, ironically, the judges who heard the case were all dismissed.

What Turkey, under Mr. Erdogan, is showcasing to the world is what the American political scientist Francis Fukuyama suggests in his 600 pages book ‘Political order and political decay’ that “in the wrong circumstances, democratic institutions can be a destabilizing force as well”.

The report goes on to predict that Turkey’s President-elect Mr. Erdogan would be constitutionally almost untouchable. With the new constitution allowing him to retain control of his party, he will now handpick the parliamentary candidates and “those who challenge him will have to pay a heavy price”. It further states that as president entitled to two five-year terms Mr. Erdogan “will utilize the parliament to appoint his own loyalists to the judiciary”. Mr. Erdogan (the democratic monarch) will now groom his son –in –law (presently the energy minister) as his heir.

A wake-up call for Pakistan

If we want to be a sovereign state with no more McMasters to visit us and dictate, it is the time we also attempt to stand up for ourselves.

The commonality between Turkey and Pakistan is the identical see- saw of the civil and military rule that both countries have witnessed in the past. Military coups have come and gone in both countries with almost equal intervals. What Turkey, under Mr. Erdogan, is showcasing to the world is what the American political scientist Francis Fukuyama suggests in his 600 pages book ‘Political order and political decay’ that “in the wrong circumstances, democratic institutions can be a destabilizing force as well”. He argues that “three building blocks are required for a well-ordered society: you need a strong state, the rule of law, and democratic accountability and you need them all together. States that democratize before they acquire the capacity to rule effectively, invariably fail”.

What Turkey, under Mr. Erdogan, is showcasing to the world is what the American political scientist Francis Fukuyama suggests in his 600 pages book ‘Political order and political decay’ that “in the wrong circumstances, democratic institutions can be a destabilizing force as well”. He argues that “three building blocks are required for a well-ordered society: you need a strong state, the rule of law, and democratic accountability and you need them all together. States that democratize before they acquire the capacity to rule effectively, invariably fail”.

Read more: Is Pakistan at risk of a coup in 2017 along with Turkey, Russia, and the US?

Marred with civil-military aloofness rather than institutional solidarity and cohesion, both Turkey and Pakistan are a true test case of countries that must bring order first before strengthening and entrenching democracy in their countries.

Mr. Erdogan has at least a roadmap for his country and as long as the young Turks and the middle class are on his side, he is most likely to deliver what he promises to Turkey, not as a classic democrat but as a bully who means business.

If we want to be a sovereign state with no more McMasters to visit us and dictate to us, it is the time we also attempt to stand up for ourselves.

Dr. Muhammad Ali Ehsan did his doctorate in International Relations from Karachi Univ; where he also teaches. His Ph.D. work is on ‘Civil-Military Relations in Pakistan’. He served for 25 years, in Pakistan Army, and remained an Instructor in Pakistan Military Academy. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.

Dr. Muhammad Ali Ehsan, did his doctorate in International Relations from Karachi Univ; where he also teaches. His Phd work is on ‘Civil Military Relations in Pakistan’. He served for 25 years, in Pakistan Army, and remained an Instructor in Pakistan Military Academy.

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