Saturday

23rd Mar 2019

Opinion

EU should brace for a more authoritarian Erdogan

  • Erdogan would be eager to mould the next generation of Turks in a more Islamic and nationalist identity by boosting religious education all over the country (Photo: Turkish presidency)

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan won his fifth consecutive election victory on Sunday and finally will be able to rule Turkey with an omnipotent/almighty one-man system non-existent in any democratic country.

Most pundits agree he is now in the club of 'strong rulers' like Vladimir Putin of Russia and Xi Jinping of China.

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He can be potentially in power until 2032 – with the new system, a president can run twice and also for a third time if he calls for early elections - and calling early elections is within the president's authority.

In the wake of last year's controversial referendum for a sultan-like presidential system, Putin advisor Sergei Markov famously declared that Erdogan's authority would now be much more strong and vast, compared with that of the Russian leader.

As the New York Times put it, Erdogan now has "dictatorial powers" at his disposal. That presidential system is now put into effect with full speed after Sunday's elections.

In short, the regime Turkey had since the founding of the republic has changed

The office of the prime minister will be abolished, the parliament will be mostly reduced to a rubber-stamp house, the president will directly appoint many high-ranking officials including Constitutional Court judges and he will make the budget and rule with decrees without any scrutiny.

No checks, no balances

This Turkish presidential system should not be confused neither with the American nor the French system.

As the Council of Europe's Venice Commission warned time and again, this Turkish system does not envisage any checks and balances.

The already strongman of Turkey is now the strongest and no institution (all institutions have been either subdued or tamed since the coup attempt of 2016, which Erdogan famously called a gift from God) can now challenge his authority.

The EU should not fool itself, and brace for a more authoritarian Erdogan who will tolerate no opposition or criticism with his long-sought new powers.

He was anything but reconciliatory during his victory speech, promising a harsher stance against the foreign and domestic enemies.

This time around, however, Erdogan has had to take on board the support of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

Seasoned observers of Turkish politics believe he was able to get elected in the first round thanks to the nationalist votes.

The situation in the parliament is a different story.

Erdogan's AKP is for the first time since 2002 now in the minority in the Grand National Assembly, and will need the nationalist MHP to get the laws passed through.

Religion + Nationalism = ?

The marriage of religion (AKP) with nationalism (MHP) will have far-reaching implications not only for Turks but for EU as well.

We will probably witness the slow but gradual change of the official ideology of Turkish state, from secular nationalism to religious nationalism.

The leader of the MHP, Devlet Bahceli is against the peace process with the Kurds and in full agreement with president Erdogan, who reneged on his pledges to Kurds.

Although HDP, the Kurdish Party, has been the third biggest party in the parliament, Erdogan will probably not budge, willing to keep MHP on board for his next election.

A more confrontational framework of relationships should be expected from Erdogan regarding the Kurdish problem.

The new blend of religious nationalism will be more anti-West and anti-EU, as Brussels has anything but leverage on Turkey. The first signs of this strong rhetoric are already visible.

This week, the Turkish foreign ministry has lashed out at EU summit conclusions as "hypocritical and inconsistent".

Like Erdogan, Bahceli is in favour of extending the emergency rule, without giving any end date.

The European Union, European Parliament and the Council of Europe have all called on Erdogan to end the emergency rule without any further delay - as he promised during the election campaign.

The religious president and the nationalist leader also agree on stepping up the struggle against terror groups like PKK and the faith-based civic group Hizmet (the Gulen movement which Erdogan accuses of staging the botched coup of 2016. The movement denies any involvement.)

According to the Council of Europe figures, after the attempted coup 150,000 people were taken into custody, 78,000 were arrested and 110,000 civil servants were dismissed. 17,000 of those jailed are women.

These figures, it seems, are still far from satisfying the two leaders.

When it comes to media freedom, the two leaders cannot agree more.

Turkey is the leading jailer of journalists on earth under Erdogan's leadership. He is suing an average of three persons per day for allegedly insulting him, and has effectively destroyed the free and critical media.

Businessmen who keep getting lucrative public tenders now own 95 percent of the media.

Surprisingly, Bahceli, right after the elections published a blacklist of some 80 people, mostly journalists, whom he accused of defaming his party - and promised never to forget what they had done.

Finally, Erdogan would be eager to mould the next generation of Turks in a more Islamic and nationalist identity by boosting religious education all over the country.

After all, he has not dreamed of the all powers he has now, just to manage the economy and build more housing complexes.

Selcuk Gultasli was Brussels bureau chief of the Turkish newspaper Zaman. Zaman was closed by decree of the Turkish government in July 2016

In the initial version of this opinion piece, the author referred to Hizmet as a "terrorist group". This was corrected on Friday June 29 at 12.30PM

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