Thursday, April 20, 2017

Erdogan authoritarian power in Turkey

Reuters news was the source of background for this blog.   In a referendum called by Turkey's president Tayyip Erdogan (pronounced erd-o-wan) a few days ago, Erdogan has claimed victory by a narrow margin of 51.4%, although serious charges of irregularities and outright fraud have been brought both by local groups and by international election monitor groups.

Nevertheless, Erdogan seems to be moving ahead as though these will not be taken seriously.  And they probably won't.   Erdogan sought and, if the referendum is not overturned, he will have powers making him more of a dictator than a leader of a democratic republic.

Turkey has had a democratic parliamentary system, with a prime minister as the chief executive.  They also have a president with more limited powers.   The referendum abolishes the position of prime minister and concentrates all executive power in a president.  It essentially eliminates any checks on his power, since he gets to appoint judges, the cabinet, an undefined number of vice presidents, and can select and remove senior civil servants -- all without parliamentary approval.   It essentially means the government answers to him.

Further, the referendum extends the term which Erdogan could be president to 2029, which would be a total of 26 years from when he first gained power in 2003 as prime minister.  That lasted until 2014, when he became president.

Complaints about the referendum process begin with the fact that it was conducted during a state of emergency, which Erdogan had declared and which allowed him to impose restrictions that limited campaigning by opponents, restricted press coverage, and asked only one question on the ballot:   without even listing the changes, people were required to vote "yes" or "no."   No other options.

This was the context -- along with serious questions about the validity of the referendum, and the implications of turning their president into a "strong-man" ruler -- when President Donald Trump of the United States called Mr. Erdogan after the referendum to congratulate him on his "victory."

Yes, on the positive side, Turkey is a member of NATO, has the second largest military in the Middle East war zones, and has taken in millions of Syrian refugees.  But Erdogan survived an unsuccessful coup by a group of his military and citizens last year.    Following that, he jailed 47,000 people, suspended 120,000 people from government jobs such as school teachers, soldiers, police, judges, etc. whom he suspected had sympathies toward the attempt to overthrow him.

This referendum is seen as a further attempt to consolidate and ensure his power.  It's not surprising that appeals to Donald Trump, much in line with his stated admiration and his praise for Vladimir Putin as "a strong leader."

Last night, MSNBC showed a film clip of Donald Trump from 2015 talking about Turkey.   The lead-in to his comment is not included, so the context is not clear;  but Trump is saying:   "It's true I have a slight conflict of interest [when it comes to Turkey].   I have a beautiful, huge building -- actually it's two buildings;  I have two huge, beautiful buildings in Istanbul. . . .(wistfully) . . . Is-stan-bu-uul."

Yes, let's not forget our president's business interests do color his decisions about what's best for this country, whether it's international relations or our own tax reform.

Fortunately, our U.S. Constitution cannot so easily be changed as this, with a 50% plus one majority.   And ours does have that pesky "Emoluments Clause," that makes it illegal for an elected official to receive gifts or payments from foreign governments or individuals.   So what about those beautiful, huge buildings in Istanbul, Donald?  If you're getting money from them, you're violating the US Constitution, and you can't change it with a 51.4% referendum.


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