“You can have a presidential government in a unitary state like Hitler’s Germany”
-Mr RT Erdogan, President of Turkey
In the history of the modern world, this is the first time, a country has been presented with the unusual choice: To choose between democracy and dictatorship.
Come 16th April, the people of Turkey will vote in referendum which is being held by the President of Turkey, Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdogan to adopt (or not) a bill which transforms Turkey from a parliamentary form of government (like India) to a Presidential republic (like America), only not quite like America.
The proposed bill includes several features that pose a threat to the democratic setup. Two changes would take effect immediately. The president would have increased authority over the body that administers the judiciary and controls the appointment of judges and prosecutors, and the prohibition against the president having a formal party affiliation would be lifted. The courts in Turkey are already under political influence and these changes would further reduce judicial independence.
Judicial independence in Turkey already ranks as one of the worst in the world. As per a report by ‘Journalists without borders’ it ranks 151st amongst 180 countries on the judicial freedom index and the upcoming bill would mean the death of democracy in Turkey.
The argument of the President and his supports is that the present system of Turkey doesn’t work for the country. It has given rise to dissent, extremist activities and a very recent coup. Somehow President Erdogan’s solution to these problems is transitioning to a dysfunctional democracy rather than a functional one, or quite possibly a dictatorship.
Essential elements of the proposed bill are:
- The role of prime minister would be scrapped. The new post of vice president, possibly two or three, would be created.
- The president would become the head of the executive, as well as the head of state, and retain ties to a political party.
- He or she would be given sweeping new powers to appoint ministers, prepare the budget, choose the majority of senior judges and enact certain laws by decree.
- The president alone would be able to announce a state of emergency and dismiss parliament.
- Parliament would lose its right to scrutinize ministers or propose an inquiry. However, it would be able to begin impeachment proceedings or investigate the president with a majority vote by MPs. Putting the president on trial would require a two-thirds majority.
- The number of MPs would increase from 550 to 600.
- Presidential and parliamentary elections would be held on the same day every five years. The president would be limited to two terms.
In a report publishes by the Venice commission, which is the advisory body of the European Council on constitutional law, it said “the proposed bill will lead to an excessive concentration of executive power in the hands of the president and the weakening of parliamentary control of that power” and that they “would introduce in Turkey a presidential regime which lacks the necessary checks and balances required to safeguard against becoming an authoritarian one.”.
“Erdogan is going to turn turkey into a dictatoship”
-New york times opinion
Independent media in Turkey have been all but silenced, with over 160 media outlets and publishing houses closed down since July 2016, and over 120 journalists and media workers currently jailed pending trial. Over 100,000 civil servants have been summarily dismissed or suspended without due process and over 47,000 people have been jailed pending trial. They face charges of involvement in the coup plot and of association either with the Fethullah Gülen movement, branded a terrorist organization by the government, or with Kurdish political activism that the government considers is linked to the armed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The extremely unfavorable environment in Turkey towards media, free speech, and journalism raise concerns over the legitimacy of the referendum. An important decision like this must always be held in a politically vibrant atmosphere. Under duress and with lack of information, a wrong and lasting law will be put in place which will serve the interest of a single politician.
Next week’s referendum will determine the course of a nation. All we can do is hope that Turkish people choose democracy over years of systematic oppression.