The Implications Of Erdogan’s Referendum Victory

Erdogan's referendum victoryTurkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Wolfango Piccoli via Macropolis | As both the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan are likely to win any upcoming elections, the approved constitutional changes will institutionalizs a populist one-man system equipped with vast additional powers. These will be usurped from other institutions without introducing the checks and balances required to safeguard against a further authoritarian turn.

While the Yes win possibly removes some short-term uncertainties, it will mainly exacerbate Turkey’s economic problems in the medium- and long-term. There is also a considerable risk that the further consolidation of power under Erdogan will increase the volatility of the domestic political and societal backdrop.

Early elections?

The new Turkish-style presidential system (see below for a summary overview) will enter into force in late 2019, when the current parliamentary term ends. Erdogan would then be able to stay at the helm until 2029, assuming he continues to win the popular vote; if parliament called for snap elections before the end of his second term, his presidency could even be extended until 2034. However, there is a loophole which could make the transition to the new one-man regime faster. This would require calling snap parliamentary and presidential elections.

As a result, early elections remain a possibility, further undermining the already dim outlook for meaningful structural reforms over the next 12-18 months. Yet after today’s narrow outcome, Erdogan will likely be in no hurry to return to the polls. Moreover, the shift to the executive presidency will take priority, requesting a significant amount of legislative work to harmonize laws and the legal system with the new system of governance.

Erdoganisation, continued

A pre-requisite for a restart of the long-stalled reform process would be a reshuffle of the economic team (including ministers and presidential advisors) as most of the current members are unsuitable for that task. Regardless, however, the referendum outcome will likely lead to a further erosion of expertise under one-man rule. Decision-making will become institutionalised in a small circle of sycophantic advisors around Erdogan – in the economy but also in other key areas such as foreign policy. With parliamentary checks and balances considerably weakened if not entirely removed now, the Erdoganisation of Turkish politics will likely make policy-making even more unpredictable and, at worst, produce even more policy fiascos.

The decision on whether to extend the state of emergency, which was due to expire on April 19, was an immediate test for the government’s willingness to re-focus on national reconciliation and the faltering economy. Erdogan decided straight away to extend it for another three months. Another important signpost relates to Erdogan’s pledge to reinstate the death penalty (which would require a constitutional amendment) as such a move would formally terminate Turkey’s already moribund accession talks with the EU. In every speech Erdogan has made since the referendum, he has made reference to bringing back the death penalty.

The Turkish president has also shown little concern for the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) report on the Turkish referendum. The OSCE said the vote did not live up to Council of Europe standards, noting that voters did not receive impartial information and that the media was restricted in its coverage. The findings are not expected to have any impact on the Turkish government.

Societal fissures

For all of Erdogan’s centralisation of power, Turkey has become less stable and safe over the past few years as terrorism and social unrest have increased. Despite its appearance of strength, Erdogan’s executive presidency is poorly suited to solve Turkey’s social, ethnic and religious fissures, which were reflected in Sunday’s narrow result. The risk is that the conservative nationalist ideology embraced by Erdogan and his AKP will further strengthen the repressive apparatus and whip up Turkish nationalism rather than producing the inclusive approach and consensual polices needed to solve deep social schisms.

Under the current authoritarian trajectory, the process of de-secularisation is likely to continue unabated, benefiting Turkey’s pious Sunni population at the expense of other important demographic groups, most notably the secular Turks and the Alevi minority. Similarly, the AKP’s unwillingness to grant to its Kurdish minority anything more than cultural rights and the deep mistrust between the two sides –  due to the repression directed against the HDP over the past 12 months – create a substantial barrier for the restart of peace talks.

At a glance: the new presidential system

  • The new president will exercise power alone (the post of prime minister will be abolished), with an unsupervised prerogative to appoint and dismiss ministers and all high officials. The president can also appoint one or more vice presidents, who like the ministers, will not report to parliament.
  • The president will have the power to directly and indirectly select a vast number of judges on high judicial bodies, including the Council of Judges and Prosecutors and the Constitutional Court.
  • The president will be given the powers to a) dissolve parliament on any grounds (thereby triggering simultaneous presidential and parliamentary elections); b) issue presidential decrees on “matters related to executive powers” (a vague formula that makes it unclear which areas should be regulated by presidential decrees and which ones by law).
  • The president will have the power to submit the budget to parliament.
  • The president will determine Turkey’s national security policies, appoint the chief of general staff and virtually all the members of the National Security Council. The president will also select senior officials with the intelligence and police forces and has the exclusive power to declare a state of emergency (and issue presidential decrees without any limitations during the state of emergency).
  • The president will be allowed to be a member and even a leader of his political party, giving him additional influence over the legislature.
  • The president will be limited to two five-years terms starting in 2019 (when most changes take effect) but a loophole will allow him to seek a third mandate if parliamentary elections were held before the end of the president’s second term.
  • Parliament would have 600 members (instead of the current 550) and can only open an investigation about the president, vice-president/s and ministers if a three-fifth majority is reached.
  • Parliamentary terms will be extended from four to five years. Parliamentary and presidential elections will be held on the same day every five years, with presidential elections going to a run-off if no candidate wins a simple majority in the first round