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SEMİH İDİZ >Can a new system really solve Turkey’s problems?

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Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım is promising that terror from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Fethullahist Terror Organization (FETÖ) will end if the referendum on April 16 makes President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan the sole leader of Turkey.

He repeated this again over the weekend at a rally in the southeastern province of Bingöl. “I promise you that after April 16, this organization will end,” Yıldırım said, referring to the PKK.

The war against the PKK has been ongoing since the mid 1980’s, so no one in the right mind would object if Yıldırım kept his promise. This, however, is a very big “IF.” Yıldırım’s remarks raise more questions than answers.

The first one that comes to mind is whether he is using underhand scare tactics to browbeat the electorate into accepting the new system of government for Turkey. He has, after all, said openly in the past that a “no” vote is a vote for the PKK.

The second question that comes to mind concerns the methods the administration will use to defeat terrorism if President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is vested with absolute powers that cannot be questioned or restrained. 

What will the “Erdoğan administration” have then, that it does not have today, in order to realize Yıldırım’s promise? The country is currently being run under a state of emergency rule and with decrees, where laws protecting individual rights have been suspended. 

The security forces, on the other hand, have all the authority they need to carry on the fight against the PKK and FETÖ in any way they see fit.

Looking at what is happening in Turkey, it is clear that according to the current policy being pursued, anyone considered undesirable can be arrested under a legal system that lacks anything resembling the “Habeas Corpus.” 

So the nagging question remains: What extra powers will Erdoğan have if he is made the executive president of his dreams, in order to eradicate the PKK and FETÖ, not to mention other radical terrorist groups?

Are we to expect even more midnight or early morning knocks on doors with arbitrary arrests? Will be seeing tens of thousands more in prison? Will we continue to see draconian measures against the media, and anyone declared to be an “enemy of the people,” or “enemy of the state?”

These are questions that Yıldırım would in a normal democracy have to answer with great clarity, given the gravity of the issue, and put people’s doubts to rest. 

Yet we do not have any such clarifications from Yıldırım, any of the government’s ministers, or from Erdoğan. All we have is the claim that a “yes” vote on April 16 will resolve all of Turkey’s troubles in one fell swoop. 

What aggravates the problem is that a large portion of the electorate, mostly with Islamist and ultranationalist leanings, believes that a new and much less democratic system of government will eradicate terrorism, return the country to stability, ensure the economy is on a better footing, and make Turkey a leading power in its region and the world.

This then brings us to the most crucial question of all. What if none of this happens under the new system, and things simply get worse, because Turkey’s heterogeneous social structure will not allow for a one-man and single party rule that is bent on imposing its ideological outlook on the whole country?

What options will Turkey have when its pluralist democracy and parliamentary system is replaced with a system that invites a host of unpleasant adjectives, and which ends up making matters worse, not better? 

Those who are relying on Erdoğan and Yıldırım - with the help of the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) -to give them the strong return they expect on April 16, are not much perturbed by such questions.

 Many Turks have always valued strong armed leadership over democracy and this is what Erdoğan’s supporters are blindly relying on today too. 

Erdoğan appears set to win the referendum, although this is not an absolute certainty yet. Should he win, though, time will reveal who the real losers are, given the promises made that are unlikely to be met.

March/07/2017

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