Ankara, Turkey. A new law is being silenced in the western media as EU leaders become worried that the Turkish President Erdogan has a bad case of “Hitler fever” and consolidating power into a dictatorship that is a EU and NATO member.
The constitutional amendment is nothing new to Turkey. Since its initial approval in 1982, the Turkish Constitution has been amended 17 times, twice by means of a referendum, altering over 60% of its articles. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which spearheaded the ‘yes’ vote, endorsed constitutional reform as a positive and democratic change from a parliamentary system to a ‘Turkish-style’ presidential system, promising to reduce the likelihood of ineffective coalitions governing Turkey.
However, the scope of changes proposed by the 18-article amendment package has been widely criticised for its potential to erode the separation of powers, and to create an authoritarian regime on Europe’s doorstep.
The amendments will enable the president to retain direct party affiliation while serving as both head of state and head of the executive. Among other powers, the president will be able to set the state budget, and freely appoint ministers and vice presidents with no veto granted to the Grand National Assembly of Turkey (TGNA). Diluted checks and balances will additionally ensure that the Turkish parliament cannot hold a vote of confidence against the president, while the president retains the ability to dissolve parliament at will.
While the amendments are not planned to come into force until the next round of elections in 2019, AKP sources have indicated that the changes could be passed rapidly.
Since the July 2016 coup attempt, internal sources estimate that over 47,000 people have been arrested on suspicion of links to terrorism, including 2,000 members of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).
For Erdogan, silencing opposition channels has become a non-negotiable tenet of his presidency. Many commentators have argued that this referendum failed to respect the democratic values of free speech and an independent press, and has prevented opponents from campaigning effectively.
The European Parliament has called Erdogan’s use of power in the wake of the failed coup ‘disproportionate and repressive’, and an analysis by the Venice Commission concluded that the constitutional amendment proposals will result in ‘excessive concentration’ of unchecked executive power.
Reaction from the EU was swift, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission Federica Mogherini and Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn issued the following statement today; “We encourage Turkey to address the Council of Europe’s concerns and recommendations, including with regards to the State of Emergency. In view of the close referendum result and the far-reaching implications of the constitutional amendments, we also call on the Turkish authorities to seek the broadest possible national consensus in their implementation”.
The coming months for Turkey will be very telling. How rapidly Erdogan moves to implement his constitutional changes combined with Turkey’s behaviour on the international stage,will determine the future of the EU member for the coming decade.