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Eyes on Turkey
Referendum result raises questions about fairness, future of Turkey and global impact
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Recip Tayyip Erdogan's victory in the referendum that seeks to transform Turkey from a parliamentary to a presidential system of governance with a wafer thin majority, getting 51.2 percent votes may hasten the world's slide towards right wing and dictatorial politics. This victory allows Erdogan to make the desired changes that include granting any popularly elected president the authority to issue decrees, name cabinet members, and declare a state of emergency and take unspecified national security measures without parliamentary approval. The referendum raises several questions, not only in view of the allegations pertaining to the fairness of elections. Reports point out that in the run up to elections, Erdogan built a massive propaganda, whipped up religious frenzy and systemically targeted institutions and media that were opposing his autocratic and corrupt regime. Since July 2016 a total of 158 different media outlets have been closed. Several thousand media workers and journalists were left unemployed or even imprisoned. Under the state of emergency put in place after the July 2016 failed coup attempt, fundamental freedoms essential to a genuinely democratic process were curtailed. Such reports question the legitimacy of Erdogan not only because of allegations of rigging, with opposition claiming that unstamped ballots were counted, but also on its democratic character. A development that eventually strengthens one person's autocratic and dictatorial power, weakens the parliament and allows the autocrat to wield greater influence over all government and public institutions including judiciary cannot be construed as democratic by any stretch of imagination. Whatever the truth behind allegations of manipulation of vote and fairness of the referendum, the vote that legitimizes sweeping changes in the country's constitution is an all out move to weaken democracy and impose a rabid form of religion in the country as opposed to the

Though the slender margin of victory and its contested fairness is seen by some observers as something that limits the powers of Erdogan, the latter got what he wanted. Technically, he remains the unchallenged head of the state. For years, he has advocated a switch to a presidential system that would allow him to occupy this role legally and further expand his executive authority. There is no reason to expect that he would allow this erosion of his populism, manifested by the razor thin victory, to loosen his grip over the country and its institutions. Such an eventuality is going to change the texture of Turkey drastically. In the saddle as an all powerful president, Erdogan, if he is elected to power in the 2019 elections, will be free from accountability to the country's parliament, wield broad budgetary powers and have complete autonomy to shape the executive branch as he sees fit, besides having over-reaching powers over the functioning of the judiciary. The just-approved amendments allow him to run for additional presidential terms that could extend his stay in power until 2029. In all probability, it will turn Turkey into an illiberal democracy with scant regard for individual rights of its citizens. It will also undo Turkey's image as the only secular state in the Muslim world, a journey that it embarked in the 1920s under Kemal Ataturk. The country in many ways is set on the road to decline, whoever wins the 2019 elections. A natural fallout of this new idiom of politics would be a divisive society, divided sharply between secularists and Islamists, between conservatives and liberals. It is difficult to say how this massive change in Turkey will impact global politics, especially with respect to Syria and relations with the western world. The surprise congratulatory message from the world's super power, Donald Trump, adds to the world's curiosity about not just how Turkey's foreign relations would function but also about whether Erdogan's faith in illiberal values and personality cult could become the guiding light for right wing and authoritarian governments the world over. The vote in Turkey signals a dangerous shift.

News Updated at : Wednesday, April 19, 2017
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