Following the relentless purge of political opponents in the wake of the abortive coup last year against his government, President Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey has recently launched another major political initiative to consolidate his power.
Lying at the heart of his ambitious plan is a call for a referendum on drastic constitutional changes, under which Erdogan proposes to abolish the office of the prime minister for good so that the president himself will become both the head of state and chief executive of the government simultaneously.
Once passed, the proposed constitutional amendments will also allow the president to appoint cabinet members and chief judges whoever and whenever he wants, and to declare a state of emergency in the country and dissolve the parliament when he sees fit.
Erdogan’s latest referendum campaign is widely seen as his final push to enhance his political power, something that he has been seeking for years. The abortive coup last year simply offered him a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to put his ambitious plan into practice.
In recent months the Turkish political strongman and his entourage have been canvassing the country calling on people to vote “yes” to the proposed constitutional changes in the referendum, which could be held as early as April.
Erdogan claims the proposed changes can enhance government efficiency and put an end to the ongoing political chaos.
Latest poll figures suggest that the Turkish people are almost evenly split over the president’s proposal. While many voters support his plan, there are many others who worry that once the constitutional changes are passed, Erdogan will get unlimited power, enabling him to rule the country as a de facto dictator.
Since the coup against Erdogan was swiftly crushed in July last year, as many as 140,000 people have been arrested by Turkish authorities on treason charges. The detained include journalists and members of the judiciary. The continued crackdown on dissent and massive infringement of civil rights has raised widespread concern in the West.
While the Turkish people remain divided over Erdogan’s proposed constitutional changes, overseas Turkish voters, particularly the 1.5 million Turkish migrants in Germany, could prove to be a key swing factor in determining whether the constitutional changes can materialize.
If his proposal is granted in the upcoming referendum, Erdogan will become the most powerful political leader in the modern history of Turkey. If the plan is vetoed, the president might blame it on interference by hostile foreign powers and intensify his crackdown on opponents.
Either way, the Turkish opposition is bound to go through even harder times in the days ahead.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb. 16
Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting
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