Continuing my coverage of trends I missed during my hiatus, I would like to today discuss Turkey and the ever-growing power of President Erdogan. The entire history of Erdogan’s rule over Turkey, beginning in 2002, has been characterized by his growing authoritarianism. This process was greatly accelerated following the attempted coup in the summer of 2016. Following the coup attempt, Erdogan declared a state of emergency in the country which still remains in place. During this time, tens of thousands have been arrested and over 100,000 government employees have been fired including judges, prosecutors, teachers, and soldiers. According to the New York Times, Turkey is now the largest jailer of journalists in the world and the government now, directly or indirectly, controls 90 percent of all media outlets in the country. It is in this environment that Turkey has instituted a new Presidential system that will come into force following Erdogan’s election victory over the past weekend.
The new Presidential system, outlined in detail by the Venice Commission, gives the office of the President, held by Erdogan, immense power with very few checks and balances. I recommend at least reading the Venice Commission’s concluding remarks, but I will highlight a few key features here. All executive power is now held by the President alone, and all high officials are appointed and dismissed by the President with zero input from any other legal body. The President can now issue legislation by decree, bypassing Parliament. Control over the national budget is transferred from Parliament to the President. Finally, the President of Turkey, Erdogan, is now also responsible for appointing (without need for approval) the majority of judges comprising both the country’s top court and the judicial body responsible for the appointment of all other public judges and prosecutors. In sum, the new constitution gives Erdogan near total ability to rule alone. Turkey has taken a mighty step towards dictatorship.
But now, why should you care about what happens in Turkey? After all, these changes are unlikely to ever affect you unless you actually live in Turkey. I believe in a world of principles and ideals. The realities of the world we live in may force us to make difficult, but pragmatic, choices when necessary but that does not mean that we should not still do all we can to fight for the principles that we believe in. Freedom is precious, and is a fundamental right owed to all people. Should we stand idly by, just because it isn’t our freedoms that are being taken away? ‘But wait a minute, Greg’ you might say, ‘we have all heard plenty about the moral reasons for why we should care about such developments already. And of course most of us will agree that yes, we should do something to protect democracy and freedom. But let’s face it, if we are going to expend time and resources on that effort we need some more concrete reasons to do so.’
So here are some more tangible reasons for you to care about what happens in Turkey. Throughout history, and especially in modern history, authoritarian regimes have tended to ally with one another and democracies with one another. Indeed, in recent years as Erdogan has become more authoritarian he has also moved Turkey closer to China and Russia. Turkey is a powerful country, in a pivotal and unstable region. It is a major power broker. Having Turkey drift away from democracy will also increasingly place it in opposition to U.S. interests. With a resurgent Russia increasingly active in the region, having Turkey as an ally is vital for the maintenance of American influence in the Middle East. Erdogan is steadily pushing Turkey towards one-man rule and as the dictatorship grows so does the distance between Turkey and the West. As freedom dies, a new rival to American interests rises.