Few were surprised on June 24 when Recep Tayyip Erdogan won the election for the Turkish Presidency. Securing over 50% of the vote in the first round of voting, Erdogan avoided a potentially delegitimizing run off to win the election. Due to a 2017 referendum to expand executive powers, Erdogan gains a tighter stranglehold over the lives of the Turkish population. As reported by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), this expansion of powers allows Erdogan to appoint ministers, have an influence over the judiciary branch, and the ability to enforce a state of emergency. Coinciding this was the parliamentary election which saw Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) fail to secure a majority; but will still be vastly influential with allies of minor right-wing parties.
Richard Haass, President of the Council of Foreign Relations, expressed woe towards Turkey’s shift away from democracy on Twitter saying that “we are witnessing [the end of Turkey being] a member of the West.” Sinan Ülgen of the Center of Economics and Foreign Policy Studies wrote for Project Syndicate that the expansion of the executive branch was a “populist conception of democratic politics” and the “opposite of liberal democracy.” Months before the election, Franck Düvell of Oxford University drew comparisons of the constitutional referendum in Turkey to the ‘Enabling Act’ in Weimar Germany in 1933 which saw the erosion of democracy and rise of a tyrannical executive branch.
The steps taken by Erdogan to consolidate his power have come after a failed coup attempt against him by part of the military. The referendum that expanded the power of the executive branch was narrowly successful, causing much controversy amongst opposition parties surrounding the severe limitation of the power of parliament. Alongside Erdogan’s consolidation of power has occurred a number of mass arrests of people who have demonstrated against this trend. This degradation of liberal values in Turkey has coincided with a halt in the progress of their ascension to the European Union. Along with this has been Erdogan being at odds with other western states on key foreign policy issues, such as the civil war in Syria.
The adoption of the referendum and the subsequent reelection of Erdogan cannot be seen as a positive movement. This path will only lead to more geopolitical tensions and contribute to a higher likelihood of conflict amongst states, causing untold amounts of destruction for millions of people. Those in opposition in Turkey must ensure that all is being done to restore their politics on a track towards a liberal democracy. This cannot happen in a short period of time, being an elongated process of undoing what has already occurred and implementing steps to ensure it cannot happen again. In the meantime western states can place pressure on Turkey externally if Erdogan is able to seize more autonomous power. This would hopefully act as a deterrent to him to expand his reach opposition in Turkey is limited. On the other hand, openly offering the prospect of cooperation can act as an incentive to curb foreign and domestic policy within Turkey.
Western states will undoubtedly treat this issue as a long-term threat to their own security and peace in general. Due to this, non-violent foreign policy approaches should be taken to nullify risk in the long term and to bring Turkish politics into a more liberal existence.
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