by Michael Sahlin
April 16 2017 will be one of the most important, decisive days in the history of the Turkish Republic, the day when the Turkish people will decide, by simple majority in a crucial referendum, whether to say yes or no to Turkey as a liberal democracy, with long-term implications for the countryÂ´s standing in the international security system.
Obviously, the above is a different way of describing the stakes of the day, that day. For in the referendum, â€ťyesâ€ť stands for accepting a proposed constitutional amendment introducing, for reasons discussed later, a presidential system to replace the Republican Turkish tradition of parliamantarism, whereas â€ťnoâ€ť stands for the opposite, that the proposed amendment asks the Turkish people to accept quasi unlimited Erdogan rule for quasi unlimited time. So the question to discuss here is whether, or to what extent, the referendum â€ťevetâ€ť (yes) means a â€ťhayirâ€ť (no thank you) to liberal democracy in Turkey for a long time to come, and, conversely, whether a â€ťnoâ€ť vote means â€ťyesâ€ť to sticking to parliamentary (liberal) democracy as the best, or least bad, solution to TurkeyÂ´s struggle for stability, legitimacy and identity.
Before looking into the facts of the matter, over and beyond the heated arguments of current political polemics, first some conceptual points of departure.
Liberal democracy vs authoritarianism vs â€ťmajoritarianismâ€ť (and totalitarianism)
Challenges from non- or anti-democratic forces in the contemporary world have encouraged specification of the meaning of â€ťWesternâ€ť democracy under the label of liberal democracy. It is appropriate here to remind that in various ways liberal democracy â€“ in addition to assuming per definition a governance through free and fair elections by the whole population above a certain age limit â€“ is defined in terms of restricted government, and therefore deliberate limits to the sphere of politics in society.
The concept of constitutionalism implies that the political â€ťrules of the gameâ€ť are defined in a constitution that cannot be easily changed by government decision; constitutional change typically requires elaborate procedures and broad political consensus. Constitutionalism is related to the concept and idea of rule of law, similarly limiting legitimate governmental interference into the justice system; the constitution and the law are â€ťaboveâ€ť the government, right is might, rather than the other way round. Furthermore, in a liberal democracy, the incumbent government cannot legitimately restrict the rights of citizens to compete for power and influence; there must per definition be unrestricted freedom of assembly and freedom of expression, which in turn necessitates freely operating media. These freedoms in turn are basic to the indispensability of a vibrant civil society which fulfills many of the societal functions left over or abdicated by the limited government, regardless of government structure, unitary or federal. This in turn provides the link between liberal democracy and ”economic freedom”, an open, â€ścapitalistâ€ť market economy, again due to the deliberate restrictions in the scope of political steering. The latter component, obviously, has always been ideologically contested between left and right, largely due to what Maurice Duverger called â€ťthe iron law of oligarchyâ€ť, but is nonetheless a key component in the set-up of defining â€ťfreedomsâ€ť (and â€ťrightsâ€ť) in liberal democracy, of course including constitutionally and legally binding respect for human rights, individual and collective.
Furthermore, in a liberal democracy, per definition, there must be effective mechanisms of accountability, of holding the government accountable â€“ even if we are per definition talking about limited government. In liberal democracies accountability is not limited only to the minimum requirement of regular elections â€“ a necessary but not sufficient condition for legitimacy â€“ but also through these mechanisms of accountability, ranging from impeachment (US style) to interpelations and/or votes of non-confidence (against individual ministers or the government as a whole). Mechanisms of accountability thus serve to limit governments in liberal democracies, making credibly sure the other limits are observed and that people, the electorate, the citizens â€“ through an unrestrained political opposition and unrestrained instruments of public opinion and freedom of assembly â€“ are not at the mercy of the government in between elections.
And finally, as we know, there is the empirical fact that liberal democracies can be grouped in a matrix where one dimension distinguishes between presidential and parliamentary systems, the other between unitary and federal (or confederal) systems, with a historical tendency for there to be a coincidence between presidential and federal systems â€“ and thus between unitary and parliamentary systems. In most cases, presidentialism serves as a means to handle the delicacies of balance between the centre and the component parts in countries (e.g. the US) where history and geography have made the founding fathers advocate federalism. And in federal systems, at least US style, for reasons of regional balance and accountability, the constitutional key is â€śMontescieuâ€ť, i.e. the explicit and elaborate balance of power between the president/executive, the congress/legislature and the judiciary.
So liberal democracies can be structurally different, whether unitary of federal, parliamentary or presidential (or, as in France, â€śsemi-presidentialâ€ť), and still be liberal democracies â€“ in terms (as above) of limited government, accountability and respecting the various â€śfreedomsâ€ť and â€śrightsâ€ť. In these countries (typically of the â€śWesternâ€ť world, the way global history has evolved) liberal democracy is seen both as a permanent and just solution to the problem of legitimacy and a way to optimize national and individual interests, and the best way to promote economic growth and development. One needs to add here that as a reflection of US and Western dominance of world affairs, globalism and multilateralism in the Post Cold War era, the values of liberal democracy have come to constitute was has come to be labeled the â€ścore valuesâ€ť of international institutions such as NATO, the EU and others, including the UN. Therefore â€śuniversal valuesâ€ť.
The list of criteria would then be incomplete unless the factor of secularism were to be added. Even though there can be secularism without liberal democracy, the opposite, liberal democracy without secularism is, arguably, unthinkable, for a long range of reasons.
And finally, there is â€“ as a consequence of all the above â€“ the coincidence between liberal democracy and the notion of representative governance, the idea that in modern states in the modern world democracies have to be operationalized via intermediary institutions, i.e. indirect democracy (people choosing representatives that control the government) as distinct from old and new notions of direct democracy with (â€śpopulistâ€ť) Leaders appealing directly the â€śthe peopleâ€ť in defiance of the intermediaries.
Books can be, and have been, written about this, but a short summary and reminder as the above may still be useful as a means to contrast liberal democracy to the contradictory arguments historically put forward by believers in authoritarianism (typically because of a perceived need for stability) and totalitarianism (typically as a revolutionary zeal for societal transformation) but also to the contemporary phenomenon of so-called â€ťmajoritarianismâ€ť.
Bowing to an internationally established minimum requirement for (government) legitimacy, and in recognition of the need for a certain minimum of legitimacy (for power and authority), â€śmajoritarianismâ€ť accepts that a government has to be popularly elected; in the modern world there is hardly any other criterion of legitimacy, hardly any other way to justify power, domestically and internationally. Claiming thereby to be a â€śdemocracyâ€ť, although an â€śilliberalâ€ť variety, â€śmajoritarianistâ€ť regimes â€“ even though perhaps avoiding that particular label â€“ would argue that in principle there are no hindrances or limits to governmental power, not the constitutional provisions, not independent rule of law mechanisms, not established mechanisms of accountability, not existing regulations of power sharing, nor concerning the liberal freedoms, etc, as long as that government can claim legitimacy from being popularly elected, although limiting the opportunity for accountability to the periodical elections.
So in theory, a majoritarian regime can lean even to totalitarianism, to the extent its electoral mandate can be interpreted to imply unlimited ambitions and unlimited power. Paradoxically, the majoritarians can also claim â€śdemocratic-socialistâ€ť credentials, holding forth that the popular mandate entitles them to argue along the lines of â€śthe larger the scope of power of the elected government and its executive branch (at the expense of other institutions in state and society) the more democratic that society becomesâ€ť, for the elected government represents â€śthe peopleâ€ť through the dominant political party. In other words â€śpoliticizationâ€ť equals â€śdemocratizationâ€ť; only the elected government (or Leader) represents the ”people” or the ”nation” and the larger the scope of its power the more ”democratic” the state and the nation. The ability to keep winning elections remains the key to legitimacy.
The prevailing global trends towards ”majoritarianism”, reflecting various kinds and degrees of crisis for liberal democracy (a much longer story), is, we can see, based on different factors and different arguments: anti/globalization, anti/Westernization, need for stability, need for strong governance in times of crisis, power hunger of leaders and the like. And obviously, majoritarian systems/regimes differ in their degree of authoritarian illiberalism. But for them to fit into a common definition of â€śmajoritarianismâ€ť two distinctive features stand out: the claim to be a â€śdemocracyâ€ť (compared to explicitly non-democratic authoritarian or totalitarian systems) and the high degree of impatience with any and all institutional hindrances or limits to governmental authority, whether constitutional, legal, or socio-political.
Majoritarianism as a concept and reality is a comparatively recent phenomenon, reflecting the contemporary combination of needed claims to â€śdemocraticâ€ť credentials for domestic and international legitimacy, on the one hand, and on the other hand the various and varying arguments advanced with claims that regime (and national) goals are incompatible with the power limits and freedoms guaranteed in liberal democracies. As a concept, therefore, majoritarianism tends in the literature to refer to authoritarian tendencies in hitherto liberal-democratic countries, rather than to long-established autocracies that use controlled elections as essential fig leaves for legitimacy, reducing to some extent the need otherwise for sheer repression, and the risks of international isolation with economic costs. One can on this point compare the Turkish political discourse with recent exercises in referendums in Azerbajdzjan and Turkmenistan, for example.
Even though at this stage it is less meaningful to try to predict the longevity of majoritarianism as a system, in its competition with crisis-ridden liberal democracy and classical authoritarianism, its systemic weaknesses are clear and present. Claims to represent â€śthe peopleâ€ť in practice unavoidably means deliberate polarization â€“ as a result of the need for supporter mobilization in order to win elections. And polarization means instability, even though the stated reason for power concentrationÂ was said to be precisely the need for (imposed) stability. And then the other paradox: the harder the crack-down by the illiberal government on the various institutions and principles of liberal freedom, the more vulnerable the government (Leader) becomes to dissent bouncing back, threatening both legitimacy and prospects for future election; a vicious circle that militates against orderly, peaceful power transfer. Furthermore, illiberal majoritarianism is al most per definition wide open to political abuse: without functioning checks and balances and without limits to the regimeÂ´s scope of authority there is little or nothing to prevent the government from consolidating step-by-step its grip and its power monopoly, such that losing elections becomes almost unthinkable and outright abandonment of pretences to â€śdemocracyâ€ť instead quite thinkable, at a later stage.
Cases of â€śdemocracyâ€ť (winning in more or less free and fair elections) being used as a means to come to power and then with determination using the power position reached to destroy that same democracy have, as we know, featured well before the term â€śmajoritarianismâ€ť was conceived. And furthermore, as we also have seen historically, the emergence of â€śLeader cultâ€ť almost unavoidably becomes part and parcel of mass mobilization for authoritarian or totalitarian varieties of â€śmajoritarianismâ€ť, implying further estrangement from liberty values.
De facto versus de jure: power, constitutionalism and the political context
Against the backdrop of this overview, and before entering into the specifics about what the referendum will be about, looking at the proposed constitutional amendments aiming at turning de facto into de jure in strengthening the personal powers of the incumbent president, Recep Tayiip Erdogan, some observations concerning the political context of the proposed constitutional transformation (or â€śregime changeâ€ť) need to be added to the analysis.
First on the issue of de facto versus de jure. One aspect of the dominance, de facto, of president Erdogan is highlighted if we consider that under the current amendment â€“ assuming expected future electoral wins â€“ he will be able to remain in supreme power until at least 2029 (or longer if he decides on early elections before the regular date). In 2029 he, turning 75, will have ruled Turkey for an incredible 26 years, as premier, party leader and president. Until now he has been victorious in all elections and referendums since coming to power, ruling during most of that era with the support of an own AK Party majority (as against a notoriously weak parliamentary opposition).
The rise of de facto presidential power dates back, inter alia, to the referendum decision in 2007 â€“ as part of the then lingering struggle between ErdoganÂ´s AKP government and the secularist/kemalist establishment â€“ to have the presidential position popularly elected, a change implemented first time in 2014 when Erdogan, campaigning with all the facilities and prestige of his Premier status and benefiting from a low turnout in summer vacation conditions, won by some 52% of the voters. Having outmaneouvred the competition and won the election, Erdogan immediately started to argue that he was going to be a politically active president â€“ no matter what the existing 1982 Constitution had to say about the president being a largely ceremonial post with no link to any specific political party â€“ and that the next logical step, to avoid unclarity about the real power distribution, would have to be to introduce a presidential system. (The AKP congress in May 2016, with Yilderim replacing Davutoglu as Prime Minister, later codified this to be the partyÂ´s main priority.)
The history of successive AKP and Erdogan power consolidation (de facto) proceeded from the earlier struggle against the secularist/kemalist civil-military establishment, at that time jointly with the main rival branch of Turkish sunni-islamism, Fethullah GulenÂ´s Hizmet movement, to a next stage (as from 2012) of overt enmity between these two branches, ending up with team Erdogan stamping Hizmet as a terror organization (â€śFETĂ–â€ť) that needed to be fought and purged. This period of intra-Sunni conflict coincided first with the democratically problematic crackdown on the Gezi Park revolt movement (summer 2013) and later also with increasingly problematic spillovers from the Syria crisis: the decisions summer 2015 to open warfare both with PKK in Turkey (after years of so-called â€śresolution processâ€ť and ceasefire) and with IS (after long negotiations with the US) â€“ leaving the Turkish regime with a â€śwar on terrorâ€ť against three enemies, PKK, IS/Daesh and the Gulen movement, and as a result of these increasing tendencies to authoritarian responses, eroding rule of law and alienating Western partners.
And then came the July 2016 attempted but failed coup dÂ´etat and the ensuing acceleration of crackdown and purge and further enhancing erdoganist power consolidation and power expansion. A promulgated state of emergency, extended in stages, was used to purge or arrest ever-widening opposition circles, to overrule the role of parliament through government and legislation by decree and to tighten the grip of the executive branch over media, the judiciary, civil society and private enterprise â€“ and to criminalize political opposition, notably the pro-Kurdish HDP. And to tighten the grip of regime and president over the various branches of the executive, including the depleted and demoralized military. The string of terror attacks during the years 2015 and 2016 served to further foster, under ErdoganÂ´s oversight, a climate of fear and siege.
All these and other trends, then, created a situation de facto of virtually unlimited powers left in the hands of the incumbent president, Erdogan, with none of the pre-existing constitutional and political mechanisms of accountability and power limitation any longer ready and able to resist the very high degree of power concentration, and with the parliament in the hands of its AKP majority, and with the AKP sworn to absolute loyalty to the person of the president.
But there was this one snag: even though there were countless examples of the presidentÂ´s unconstitutional behavior over the years, it was politically inconceivable, for minimum legitimacy, to leapfrog the constitutional provision that bringing a constitutional change to a determining referendum required 3/5 majority in parliament, something the AKP could not muster on its own since the Nov 1 2015 elections. But the nationalist MHP leader Devlet Bahceli saved ErdoganÂ´s day late in the stormy autumn of 2016. Claiming, in a volte-face, on one famous (some say infamous) occasion that this difference between political de facto and constitutional de jure had become unbearable and harmful to the nation at a critical juncture (and that TurkeyÂ´s war on terror and other challenges necessitated national unity under a strong hand) he now, controversially, offered his partyÂ´s cooperation with the AKP to see through, by sufficient parliamentary majority, the proposed transfer â€“ or regime change â€“ to a presidential system â€śa la turcaâ€ť.
So accompanied by terror attacks and widening government crackdown the two parties sat down to negotiate a joint package of constitutional amendments to this end. And after a stormy series of parliamentary sessions on this highly controversial subject the 18 articles in the joint AKP-MHP constitutional change was voted through by (sufficient) majority vote. And now president has endorsed (sic!) the package and the referendum is set for April 16, still (remarkably) under conditions of state of emergency. The president will lead the Yes campaign, pledging to carry out 40 rallies throughout the country.
Some complicating perspectives
Finally, before looking into the specifics of the constitutional changes brought to the people for its ultimate decision, a few more complicating perspectives need to be brought up. One question here pertains to the issue of a theoretically possible â€śnoâ€ť in the referendum. What happens then? Is such an outcome at all tolerable for president Erdogan and his regime, having invested maximum effort into this regime change endeavor. If not, then the campaign can be expected to be as polarizing and ruthless as is seen to be needed by the regime to avoid a â€śnoâ€ť, and, preferably, to achieve a clear yes, say 55%, for legitimacy. But if â€śnoâ€ť, then status quo ante, the same de facto-de jure destabilizing tension. An untenable situation, probably, hence (probably) instant regime call for new elections, especially to the extent the regime suspects internal AKP disloyalty in the referendum, with fresh elections giving team Erdogan an opportunity to replace (suspected) disloyalists with (certain) loyalists in the AKP cadres. So for the â€śnaysayersâ€ť a referendum â€śnoâ€ť would of course be victory and relief, but also new steps on the path of uncertainty.
And what if a simple majority, whether slim or large, of the electorate is convinced by the Erdogan-led Yes-campaign to say yes to the proposed regime change, how will the consequences of that be handled in the interim period between April 16 and the point of full implementation of the new system as from the electoral rounds in 2019? The provisions on that in the AKP-MHP amendments give little guidelines. More de facto-de jure acrimoniousness? More questions concerning the constitutionality of immediately implementing de facto provisions of the new constitution that are supposed to enter into force de jure only after final confirmation in the 2019 elections? Will, from the point of view of team Erdogan, there be a perceived need for new elections after the referendum regardless of outcome, for consolidation and party cleansing?
And here is another question: will the MHP leadership be rewarded after a Yes victory with cabinet positions in a â€śnational frontâ€ť or â€śnational unityâ€ť government, perhaps as a means for a divided and weakened MHP to escape the fate of extinction?
And then there is the rather foggy issue of whether the amendments now at issue are meant to be applicable and tailor-made for the Erdogan persona only and exclusively, such that it is an open question what happen after him, or whether the amendments strictly refer to the function, such that it is constitutionally assumed that a successor would inherit identical powers. And if the latter, how is the new Turkish presidential system supposed to function in the (theoretical) case of a winner in future presidential elections representing other party/parties than the dominant one, currently but perhaps not eternally the AKP? One can recall here that in the first presidential elections in 2014, Erdogan came out victorius in the first round largely due also to tactical mistakes of the divided opposition; had there been a second round, Erdogan versus the combined opposition forces, the outcome could conceivably have been quite different, in spite of AKP dominance in the parliament.
It has also to be borne in mind that at issue in todayÂ´s Turkey and the upcoming referendum is whether to legalize and constitutionalize de facto established vast presidential powers at the helm of a dominant party and strongly mobilized supporter masses in a â€śrevolutionaryâ€ť atmosphere, and not Â the mere question of whether to make the incumbent permanently safe from any risk of power competition or palace revolt. Or whether not to.
It would seem that these various uncertainties are providers of the ingredients for protracted instability, regardless of the referendum outcome.
The constitutional amendments: â€śdemocratic dictatorshipâ€ť?
The â€śTurkish styleâ€ť presidential system now presented to the Turkish electorate for its verdict on April 16, in its final shape a compromise between â€śsecular nationalistâ€ť MHP and the ruling â€śislamic nationalistâ€ť AKP , was defended by the MHP leader (Bahceli) in front of competition from skeptical MHP activists and grassroots in wordings setting the tone of the Yes-campaign:
â€śTurkey is facing a dire period full with dangers and threats. The imperialist conspiracy, aimed at changing the borders of neighboring regions and redrawing them by force, has intensified. Sadly, our country is besieged. Russia and the Western alliance are patting the PKK-PYD-YPG on the back, seeking to strengthen the camp of our enemies. It is an inevitable and indisputable imperative for Turkey to keep its unity strong and close ranks through national consensus and cohesionâ€ť (Ali Bayramoglu in Al Monitor, Feb 23 2017).
And the central figure of the referendum campaign, the person it is all about, Erdogan, would argue similarly in a note of warning to the â€śnaysayersâ€ť: â€ťWho says no? The PKK says no. Who says no?Â Those who want to divide and carve up this country say no. Who says no? Those who are against the native and national in this country say no.â€ť And PM Yildirim, the man who will lose his job if the referendum says yes, added: â€śWe say yes because the PKK, the HDP and â€śFETĂ–â€ť say no. To make up your mind, look at who the naysayers areâ€ť (Ibid).
This highly polarizing language, destined to widen cleavages and make post-referendum reconciliation a daunting task, regardless of outcome, will face in the campaign a conglomeracy of â€śnaysayersâ€ť, the CHP and HDP (decimated by a wave of arrests), supposed dissenting Kurdish, Alevi or secularist voices within the AKP and MHP at the level of partisan politics, and various social groupings, who will openly or secretly oppose the amendment on the grounds that they in fact would mean the introduction, de jure, of unlimited one-man rule in Turkey, for practically unlimited time, something bad for business and bad for democracy and the rule of law in Turkey.
Even though there are warnings, and indications, that a too wildly polarizing or demonizing language (like naming any and all â€śnaysayersâ€ť terror sponsors or the like) would be harmful to the country â€“ and in fact potentially counterproductive and thus risky â€“ there remains reason for concern that Turkey is in for a destructive campaign, in view of the stakes and the uncertainties.
Nonetheless, there are facts of the matter in the cloud of polemics, and here one can refer back to the earlier discussion on the roots and arguments of â€śmajoritarianismâ€ť, notably the way the â€śYesâ€ť- propaganda handles the criticisms of eroding democracy and rule of law, arguing that the expanded power of the elected leader means enhanced, even elevated, democratization, democratization in combination with needed effectivization of governance.
It follows from the account above of the political context and the rise of executive presidential powers de facto in recent years that Turkey largely abandoned the systems category of liberal democracy (as defined above) years ago, as from when the president and his team started to advance the role of the executive at the expense of other public sector arms and to institute government consolidation steps in clear breach of the provisions of the valid constitution, the regime using its control of the AKP and its parliamentary majority (albeit shaken after the June 7 2015 elections) as main instrument. In other words, liberal democracy in Turkey was largely undone as a price for the AKP-Gulen conflict and then by the conflicts with the PKK and, to some extent, IS.
This trend is now being codified by the proposed constitutional provisions of executive/presidential control of the main juridical institutions in the country, the Turkish Constitutional Court (TCC) and the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK, to be renamed Council of Judges and Prosecutors,Â HSK), the former supposed to be the bastion in defence of constitutionality and rule of law, the latter the key instrument in the election of members of other key institutions in the system of justice, the Court of Cassation and the Turkish Council of State, these authorized to propose two members each to the TCC. A study of the details of proposed changes in the amendments, changing membership numbers and stipulating responsibilities for appointments, shows greatly enhanced presidential control of these institutions â€“ indispensable for checks and balances and rule of law in any liberal democracy, directly through presidential powers of nomination and indirectly through the powers of the parliament majority, as controlled by the president.
For the amendments (the AKP here overruling MHP objections) allow the president to remain part and leader of â€śhisâ€ť party, in this case the AKP, thereby commanding or controlling party nominations before future elections. The enhancement of presidential-cum-party leader control of the dominant party is further underscored by provisions to increase the number of lawmakers (from 550 to 600), to conducting simultaneous presidential and parliamentary (and local) elections, and to lower the age limit of eligibility, reducing the weight of veteran AKP politicians and paving the way for a new (â€śdevoutâ€ť) generation of hand-picked aspiring Erdogan loyalists. In this, together with the maintenance (satisfying MHP demands) of a unitary structure of governance, lies an important deviation from international presidential system normalcy, whether liberal democratic or not.
And what about the role of the parliament, e.g. as a mechanism of accountability â€“ an indispensable component not only in liberal democracy but in democracy altogether?
The answer is connected to what is prescribed in the amendments concerning the role of president and government. The Turkish presidential system as now proposed takes out the function of prime minister and leaves it to the president to appoint both the post(s) of vice president and the cabinet members, none of whom are answerable to the parliament, neither by the institution on no-confidence vote nor by the right of interpelation. Furthermore, the rights granted to the president to declare a state of emergency and to rule by decree, and to call for fresh elections in case of perceived need, provide added indicators of regime change. And what about abuse of power safeguards? Well, the provisions in the amendments clearly set the requirements for impeachment so forbiddingly high, especially in view of presidential control of both the parliament and the TCC, that such an eventuality becomes practically inconceivable â€“ as long as the AKP controls parliament and Erdogan controls the AKP (a prerequisite for the proposed system to avoid constitutional chaos).
In addition there are the factors of mandate duration â€“ that the incumbent president, if elected in 2019 and then re-elected in 2024, can remain in his post at least until 2029 â€“ and of strengthened executive and presidential powers, notably over the military and the budget, already adopted under the current (post-coup) state of emergency and its lengthy sequence of legally binding decrees (without parliament approval/confirmation, the TCC having declared non-interference as supposed iltimate domestic guarantor of constitutionality).
So regardless of whether all this, here summarized, entails the mere transformation from power de facto to power de jure â€“ and of whether the current (provisional) state of emergency will for all practical and juridical purposes be transformed into, or glide into, a systemic/permanent order of constitutional state of emergency â€“ it has to be stated, for fact, that the proposed amendments will render the incumbent president unique, unprecedented powers, in almost any comparison, historic or geographical. For the package renders the president unchecked control of the government, the party, the parliament, the judiciary, the military and other executive branches, in addition to the dominance of the private sector economy following the post-coup purge wave. And in addition to guaranteed immunity. And the net difference between de facto and de jure lies in the elements of permanence, unchangeability and aspiring international legitimacy. And regime safety.
It will, in this perspective, be of considerable interest to observe how the government, in the period preceding and following the referendum, will deal â€“ formally â€“ with the delicate issue of theÂ state of emergency: infinite prolongation costs legitimacy, and lifting it (for the purpose of portaying legitimizing normalcy) costs difficult and challenging issues of retroactivity,
It follows that the referendum on April will be a very, very important day, and not just for Turkey and the Turkish citizens but also for TurkeyÂ´s friends and allies abroad, i.e., all those that would have reason to regret to see Turkey disengage from the Western family of nations and alliances, instead looking for Azerbajdzjani or Turkmenistani sources of political inspiration.
One final question: can the fateful outcome be predicted? There seems, at the time of writing, to be two things to be said on this. According to some opinion poll analysts one should expect a clear, perhaps even resounding, yes in light of the apparent fact that there is in todayÂ´s Turkey a strong rightist/nationalist wind blowing across the country, combining the different currents of rightist Turkish nationalism, secular and islamist, into a lasting pattern, in reaction to all the strains and crises of recent years, topped by the challenge of Kurdish militancy and the coup experience. In view of this wind, further reinforced by Yes-campaign rhetoric, the â€śyesâ€ť should be expected to win comfortably.
Still, as pointed out and shown by others, the race seems to be tight, with lingering uncertainty, causing concern at Yes campaign headquarters, a concern also about the reliability of AKP and MHP loyalty. A lot seems to be presently focused on the Kurdish votes: will there perhaps, with the PKK war and HDP intimidation ongoing, be attempts made to â€śbuy overâ€ť hesitant Kurds with discrete pledges that as from April 17 concessions on the Kurdish issue will be delivered? After all, the â€śresolution processâ€ť of a few years ago was based significantly on a Kurdish movement conviction that regardless of team Erdogan motives (support for the presidential system) there was hardly any other political party able and willing to challenge Turkish nationalism with a serious attempt at resolution to the â€śKurdish questionâ€ť.
And: what if at some stage AKP strategists see the emergence in their daily opinion polls of a trend pointing to a real risk of losing the referendum, even in the face of rather extreme repressive and polarizing (but perhaps counter-productive) measures? Then what? Find an excuse to cancel or postpone the referendum?
But that rather speculative question perhaps begs another question at the very end: is stable parliamentary (liberal) democracy any longer a credible alternative in todayÂ´s and tomorrowÂ´s Turkey, or is it overtaken by events, sociologically and demographically?
The author is ambassador and a former director general.