Turkey and its referendum

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Turkey and its referendum

President Erdogan mustn’t misuse new authority

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has finally got a mandate he had been hoping for: To amend the Constitution and vest in himself near unassailable powers to govern his nation. The public referendum his regime conducted has given him the green signal to act decisively without political hindrance to the cause of “defeating terrorists” (read Kurdish insurgency). This, of course, is the official line. In reality, President Erdogan now has the authority to, if he wants, ride roughshod over the Opposition, abolish the prime ministerial post, appoint judges without parliamentary approval and issue binding orders without bothering about the niceties of parliamentary democracy. In short, Erdogan can well become an imperial President. He has the option to not misuse the public mandate and be accommodative. He must bear in mind that the referendum result has not been overwhelmingly in his favour. Just about 52 per cent of those who participated in the exercise supported the 18 constitutional amendments. Three major cities — Ankara, Istanbul and Izmir — have voted ‘no'. The opposition parties have already questioned the result. There is, therefore, a deep divide within Turkey on the roadmap for the future. President Erdogan will do well to  keep these realities in mind and, instead of furthering the schism, must work to bridge it. He is without doubt a popular figure, all said and done, but popularity is fickle if not handled judiciously. If President Erdogan turns into a despot, it will be bad both for him and his country. His recent track record gives one some cause of worry. He has been increasingly centralising powers unto himself on one pretext or the other — fighting terrorism being the major rallying point. The ill-fated and amateurishly plotted coup against him months ago enhanced his stature within the country. But now, the powers he will assume are enormous in nature and would make any believer in genuine democracy more than a trifle uncomfortable. Take just a few instances: He and his team, and not Parliament, could draft the Budget; just three members to a constitutional court will be appointed by Parliament while the President can nominate 12. This leaves the powers of the court to try the President severely compromised. Besides, the President can issue decrees to appoint or sack bureaucrats. Parliament will become toothless.

The referendum result will have repercussion beyond Turkey and throughout Europe. European nations have reacted cautiously to the mandate. The European Commission has advised President Erdogan to explore the “broadest possible national consensus” before attempting a revamp of the political structure. The President's call to restore the death penalty will obstruct Turkey's plan to join the European Commission. But Turkey is threatened by terrorism and tough action, including capital punishment, may be the need of the hour. President Erdogan must ensure that it is not misused or directed against political rivals.

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