Reform vote gives more power to the executive branch
By Michael Jack O’Brien
Features and List Co-Editor
In an ever more concerning trend of global politics, it appears that the strongman state head is in fashion once again. In a referendum held this week, Turkey voted to drastically reform their constitution. This grants President Recep Tayyip Erdogan a grand suite of executive powers unprecedented in the country’s history. The referendum, in which the “yes” camp won by a razor thin margin of 51.4 percent decided that the nation would cease to be a parliamentary system and instead be turned into a powerful executive presidency, not unlike The United States.
While the presidential office was a largely symbolic and limited role for most of the nation’s history, this referendum completely abolishes the office of the Prime Minister, and in turn granted Erdogan wide sweeping powers as Turkey’s head of state. A sample of Erdogan’s newfound powers includes the ability to be both President and leader of a political party; while previously the President was an apolitical office, now Erdogan is permitted to be both head of state and the leader of Turkey’s ruling party the AKP (Justice and Development Party). Other powers include the ability to bypass the country’s parliament on important state matters, this includes the ability to publish decrees which regulate how certain ministries are composed. The president can also declare a state of emergency without the approval of parliament. This is most likely a response to the failed military coup that occurred during summer of last year, after which a state of emergency was called and Erdogan was given a “sample platter” of new executive powers. These new executive powers continued on as Turkey’s state of emergency has been extended multiple times. He gained these executive powers this week.
Despite winning by a thin margin, many critics of the referendum have stated that the vote was a sham, and it’s not hard to see why. The “no” campaign was unfairly hampered by red tape and critical media coverage by the media; in addition, a sudden rule change regarding ballot stamps gave the “yes” campaign a competitive edge. In the end, international monitors and watchdogs slammed the referendum as fixed by Erdogan and his compatriots. While the vote was celebrated by much of Turkey as a new chapter in the country’s relatively young democracy, the country is nevertheless split with many opponents accusing Erdogan of being a power-hungry autocrat. It should be noted that the country is much more divided than Erdogan would like to admit; even with the alleged foul play, Erdogan was expected to easily win over 60% of the vote. Accusations that Erdogan is a dictator are also not helped by Turkey’s crackdown on journalists and political opponents over the last year. In 2016 alone, over 81 journalists were arrested and jailed under faulty accusations of “supporting terrorism.” In addition, over 100,000 government employees were fired last year following the failed coup attempt in July.
To many, Erdogan is just the latest of a series of “strongmen” world leaders to have seized power within their nations; utilizing social, economic, or political turmoil as a tool to expand their own influence within their respective nations. For example, in Venezuela, Nicholas Maduro stripped congress of all legislative power, leading to massive protests and riots within the country. One cannot help but make parallels between Maduro and Erdogan in looking at this. Erdogan, Maduro, Trump, Putin, Xi Jinping; it appears to many that the strongman candidate is in fashion, a chilling trend in a time where global unity is being challenged by the rise of Far-Right candidates and large actors such as China and Russia are vying for greater power and influence in an ever-changing geopolitical environment.
Many take for granted that a large majority of world governments are democratic institutions, a situation that wasn’t always the case until the Third Wave of Democratization in the 1970s. In reality, democratic institutions, although relatively stable, are not invincible. During times of international turmoil, such as the present, the promises of unity and inclusion that are extolled by democratic institutions get called into question. Many citizens look for a strong executive leader to guide the country through times of struggle. This is not to say that democracy is dead or dying, but instead serves as a stark reminder that nothing lasts forever, and that for democracy to survive, it must adapt. Whether or not democratic institutions are capable of adapting to a world where strong men are becoming a more prominent threat is yet to be seen.