The Turkish Republic, as we know it, is dead

Published: June 30, 2018
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A huge portrait of Turkish President and 2018 election frontrunner Recep Tayyip Erdogan. PHOTO: AFP

In perhaps the most important election of the past two decades, Turkey has given its verdict, electing Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as the president and also giving his party, Justice and Development Party (AKP), who fought the elections in coalition with Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), a majority in the Parliament.

President Erdogan called an early election because he was expecting to win at this time, and therefore, wanted to use the opportunity to consolidate his presidency, which after last year’s referendum had become an extremely powerful post. Just to reiterate that presidency after the referendum is no longer a ceremonial post but gives the sitting president immense powers, which are coming into effect after the elections. The referendum changed the Turkish political regime from parliamentary to presidential and allocated Erdogan the official power to appoint ministers, issue decrees, dissolve Parliament and make judiciary appointments.

Despite the fact that last year’s referendum was riddled with controversies ­– it took place during the emergency rule and a widespread crackdown on state institutions and media by Erdogan – and was declared problematic by international monitors, Erdogan and his ruling party emerged victorious. And now these snap elections, again held during emergency, have ensured that his new stint begins with expanded powers.

So, what does it mean for Turkey’s own political future, and for the rest of the world? After all, let’s not forget that from a global and regional perspective also, Turkey is an extremely important country.

First, domestic implication is that now the system is firmly presidential with more authority vested in the executive. The opposition had claimed that in case of their win, they would revoke the changes after the referendum. With their defeat, it seems obvious that the changes would become permanent. Presidential systems differ from parliamentary systems in a number of ways. In parliamentary systems, executive and legislation are both housed in the Parliament.

In theory, this results in quicker decision-making and better accountability as well. Former because there are less veto points and the latter because the prime minister has to enjoy confidence of majority all the time as he can be removed through vote of “no confidence” on any given day. When the system changes into presidential, normally another veto point is added because legislation proposed by the legislature has to be often (in most such systems) approved by the president.

Secondly, in the presidential system, the president is elected directly by the people and therefore in theory very difficult to remove, except through impeachment, which often requires more than a simple majority. In theory, it makes a president somewhat immune to parliamentary oversight as he can continue even if the majority of the legislature is against him.

Whether a presidential system is more advantageous or not, would often depend on the political circumstances and ground realities of a country. For example, countries like the US and France also have a presidential system, but there the president is constrained by other branches of the government. In Turkey’s case, given the rise of authoritarianism, particularly after the failed coup, the shift to presidential system is a dangerous development as the recent changes place the president above judiciary and the parliament.

For all practical purposes, Turkey is now an authoritarian regime though by apparently “democratic” means. Instead of a constrained authority, now it will have almost absolute authority vested in a single individual. However, for Erdogan supporters, this form of authoritarianism is perhaps preferable to the secular authoritarianism of the past, which had targeted the more religious segment of the society.

Second, the biggest change is going to be in the secular character of the Turkish constitution and also on what is known as Kemalism. Turkey is one of the few overtly secular Muslim-majority countries, a status that is under serious threat now. It should be remembered that secularism in Turkey had been an elite consensus and, in the past, armed forces used to act as a guardian.

However, since 2002, armed forces gradually started to lose their influence and after the failed coup have become almost insignificant. Erdogan’s party is an Islamist party, which started in 2002, as supposedly a moderately “conservative” party but as its hold on power strengthened, gradually it started to infuse more religion into the polity, while apparently maintaining the secular character of the constitution.

Now with increased and unfettered powers, Islamisation of the society is expected to go into full throttle and Turkey may effectively see the end of secularism. With the passage of time, official changes in the constitution to change its secular character, cannot be ruled out. The country is also likely to abandon so-called Kemalism (in many ways it is doing so) and in the process become a different country altogether. One salient characteristic of Kemalism was its negation of the Ottoman Empire, and it stressed on building a different kind of Turkish nationalism, which was not based on pan Islamism and was compatible with the West.

With Erdogan firmly in power, the Kemalist ideals, which have for the large part of history guided Turkish nationalism as well its foreign relations, are most likely to be permanently replaced by Erdogan’s vision or Erdoganism which is purported to be much more orthodox, populist and rooted in veneration of the Ottoman empire.

Besides the already discussed domestic implications, this will also have consequences for Turkey’s relations with the West. Increasingly, Turkish relations with North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and members of European Union are likely to get strained. Instead, it will try to increase its influence in the Middle East, North Africa in particular and the Muslim world in general. Nostalgia about the glory of the Ottoman Empire is going to be one of the most prominent lenses through which the country will try to view and then formulate its role in the world.

Turkey’s transformation from a secular republic into an authoritarian quasi-religious regime within a period of 15 years is astounding. It raises questions about the compatibility of secularism in a society, which is not secularised. Perhaps where Turkey went wrong was the way it imposed secularism – it was imposed forcefully – alienating many religious-minded people in the society.

This transformation is perhaps the result of the religious backlash emanating from years of marginalisation. There are important lessons to be learned here. I am foremost a fierce secular and yet I also think that secularism should not be imposed in an illiberal way. If we enforce secularism in an illiberal manner, the result will be an Islamist backlash and counter-intended transformation of the society.

If Mustafa Kemal Ataturk were alive, he would not be able to recognise the country he founded after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Turkey has changed completely, and unfortunately, this transformation is not going to bode well for the future of individual liberties in the society.

The Turkish Republic, which the world used to know, is dead.

raza.habib

Raza Habib Raja

The author is a recent Cornell graduate and currently pursuing his PhD in political science at Maxwell School, Syracuse University. He has also worked for a leading development finance institution in Pakistan. He is a freelance journalist whose works have been published at Huffington Post, Dawn (Pakistan), Express Tribune (Pakistan) and Pak Tea House. He tweets @razaraja (twitter.com/razaraja?lang=en)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Rehman ali

    Erdogan is the democratically elected leader of Turkey. Majority of Turkish voters voted for him in free democratic elections. Just because the Liberal Activists do not like Erdogan’s policies, does not mean Turkey is not a democracy any more. You liberals cry aboutwanting democracy, but when you don’t like election results you start crying in blogs. Just accept the democratic elections results and stay quiet.Recommend

  • Patwari

    A sad day indeed for the former ‘Turkey’. A secular country.
    Now known as Erdoganland.
    With a replay going on in real time in the Sub continent.
    In Modiland….formerly Hindustan, which used to be secular.Recommend

  • Fahad

    The Turkish Republic, as I know it. Is reviving from the dead!

    God speed Erdogan!Recommend

  • Ahmad

    The underlying assumption is that Islamization by definition is wrong.

    The Turkish people have never been this rich. However that’s not good enough for you.

    I guess your problem is with Islam itself.

    My request is that you write a blog on why a country should be secular instead of Islamic.Recommend

  • RHR

    I have written on that also. I mean why a country should be secular. This blog was on the potential impact of Erdogan win on Turkey and whether one likes secularism ( as I do) or dislike it, the fact is that Turkey is increasingly losing its secular character.Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    Turkey is an Islamic republic and was never a secular set up even under its founder Ata Turk. It has now a presedential administration more or less like we have in France which under Macron who is lately seen to be moving away from its lycite past recognising that religion is the essential part of citizens DNA. RHR lives in a evangelist republic( kennedy being the exception) under denial mind set of religion ignoring th fact that the US supreme court has lately uphld the evangelist Trump ban on muslims being in conform with its constitution.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Tahir Zaidi

    You seem to have Islamophobia which is pretty normal for a people living in the States. Have you ever been to Turkey to realise the actual ground situation there? People there did not voted Erdogan because of his Islamization or presidenctial policies but because of the fact, he raised the Turkish living standards, crazily improved the infrastructure and removed the six-digits Lira/Dollar ratio in 1990s to single digit nowadays. Today, Turkey boast the vibrant tourism industry and is a G20 member. Pakistan need to follow the Turkey’s model in terms of improving the infrastructure and providing basic necessities to the common man. No one cares what you say about being secular or islamist! If the government is delivering the results and people are happy to elect him again then whats your problem?The common mass only care about the end results whether it is being delivered by secularists or Islamist government! Do research deeply first then write!Recommend

  • Parvez

    Second attempt :
    You seem to be asking ” Is Erdogan good for Turkey ? ” ….and the true answer can only be given by a cross section of the Turkish people.
    I wonder if you have visited Turkey from time to time ….. I have and been in the south and to Istanbul. The first time was in the mid ’70 and I noticed progress and the people were proud of their country.Recommend

  • Ahmad

    Can you please give the link for that blog? The one in which you have written about secular over Islamic.Recommend

  • Ahmad

    They will accept it only of there is no Islam. Just like what happened in Egypt. Their problem is with Islam.Recommend

  • Patwari

    Perhaps YOU are writing about the ‘other’ Turkey that is gone. No longer there. Dead.
    Did visit Turkey in the mid 2000’s. 2005 to be exact, and onwards. From Rumi’s
    tomb in Konya, all the way to the Roman ruins near the Greek border. About 3 visits.
    It was a beautiful thriving country, full of tourists from Europe, Viking Countries
    and specially Germany. It wanted to join the European Union at one time.
    Deep in their heart, the Turks considered themselves Europeans. Not Asians.
    That era, that time, is no more. Ataturk must be weeping in his grave.
    The new Turkey is ruled by a strongman. A dictator. “Democratically elected”
    This is the same man that had two Turkish school teachers “brought back” from Pakland.
    He allowed every sick perverted jihadist from Europe, Indonesia, Pakistan, Hindustan
    the African countries, Philippines, to ENTER SYRIA through Turkey. No questions asked. No visa needed. Syria was packed with the riff raff who joined D’aish.
    Or the Islamic Caliphate of Shaam and Levant. This man allowed these dredges of society to go in and BUTCHER Muslims and others. Remember JIHADI JOHN, the butchering thug from England? Why all this? Because Erdogan hates Bashar Assad!!
    OR the three 15 year old Pak origin girls from London who ran away to join ISIS.
    !5 year old unaccompanied schoolgirls allowed to cross the border into Syria!! Huh!!
    Now there are terrorists/extremists, regular bombings, massacres at the airport.
    Turkey is no longer a safe country to visit. It is full of fear and danger.
    Did you, by any chance, visit during King George the Fifth reign?Recommend

  • Parvez

    My contention is simple …… let the people who have to eat the pudding give the verdict and they are the Turkish people. You and the author are at liberty to voice your opinions.
    Although I have not recently been to Turkey but close friends who last year visited on holiday were happy with what they saw. If Erdogan is a strong ( even despotic ) ruler but has his countries interest at heart and the majority of the people back him ….. who are you, the author or me to disapprove.Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    RRH, wheather one has a faith in Islam or in secularism per se, we must believe in democracy which allows people to choose their political leaders for the Governmnt. The majority in Turkey has opted for AKP coalition and Erdogan is now their undisputed President. This compares to USA where the minority has brought in the white House Trump who is hell bent on disrupting well established world institutions.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Patwari

    Strongly disagree. What if the people are unable to give a verdict?
    Because they are scared, any open resistance or opposition will put
    them in jail. As thousands are. Specially journalists. No opposition at all.
    There was a coup against the dictator that failed. Just last year. Nobody knows yet how many military personnel were summarily executed.
    By the way Taksim Medani [medan or square] is no longer what it used to be. Foreigners avoid it now. European tourism is down. The backbone.
    This is the same Erdogan that wanted the cleric Fethullah Gulen, in US, kidnapped, and brought back to Turkey. With the help of General Michael Flynn [retd]. Trump’s first Chief of Staff. Gen. Flynn is now under indictment. Pleaded guilty. Singing and fully cooperating with the Mueller investigations. And the FBI. Gulen is a big critic of Erdogan.
    According to your logic, Zia ul Haq, had his country’s best interests at heart. Pakland is still suffering from the Zia virus. The main effects:
    INTOLERANCE and religious extremism are everywhere. Religious
    minorities have no rights. Pakistanis have not yet fully recovered from
    Zia’s scourge.
    By the way, this is the same Erdoganland, that is in the coalition which is
    killing unarmed Yemeni Houthi civilians. The Houthis are mostly Shias.
    In case you did not notice, a huge humanitarian crisis is in progress in Yemen.Recommend

  • RHR

    Google “Muslim world and secularism” with my name. If I provide a link, the comment will go to spamRecommend

  • RHR

    I have seen some comments who seem to suggest that when Turkey has “democratically” elected who am I to be critical of this.
    There are some points I would like to raise.

    1. These elections were held in state of emergency and in the middle of still going on purge of judiciary, political opponents and above all media. These cannot be called “fair”

    2. Even if they had been “fair”, one can still evaluate the election with respect to its impact on secular character of the country. This was a focused blog as it tried to examine impact on the secular nature of the country. No way did I “stop” Turkish people from voting the way they wanted to or say that Turkey did not experience growth under Erdogan. For that matter many Pakistanis have problem with Modi though he too is elected through majority of votes!!! Votes show popularity of a party but for whom you have voted has implications of liberalism and secularism. This blog was examination of that potential impact.

    Regards

    RazaRecommend

  • RHR

    My dissertation is on Islamist parties and I have plenty of “research” as Turkey is my case study. Having said so, the blog was on the potential impact on secularism and its republic characteristic.Recommend

  • RHR

    Hi Rex

    What are you smoking nowadays?Recommend

  • RHR

    Did you even read the blog or just the title and catch line?Recommend

  • RHR

    Its good to at least read the blog properly apart from just the titleRecommend

  • Sane

    Turkey is on the right path under great leadership by Erodogan. You cannot undermine this great leader. Islamic world need people like him. The great and loving people of Turkey are lucky to have this leader.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Sorry, Zia had a grandiose vision at heart that proved disastrous for the country ……. Erdogan is no saint but his comparison with Zia makes little sense. You say Erdogan is bad for Turkey……I say otherwise. You say the Trurkish people are not in a position to give a verdict ….. and I disagree. Let’s leave it at that and see how things turn out for Turkey…..a beautiful country with good people.Recommend

  • RHR

    what makes you think like that? This is quite an allegationRecommend

  • Mike Pilgrim

    Israeli trolls including Haaretz trash talking Erdogan and Turkey. Israelis have a death wish, alienating Turkey means Israel is exposed to attack by Arab States. Without Turkey the US cannot protect Israel.Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    Well said! There is no wall of secularism in countries which claim to be Islamic republics! Even the US and India are now in the process of tearing down the wall of secularism in their lands.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Rex Minor

    Turkey is an Islamic republic where all citizens irrespective of their ethnic and religion background have equal rights.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Tahir Zaidi

    Sorry. I cannot buy your “incomplete” research. You need to enhance the scope of your research to analyse which one of the following Islamist, secularlist or Kemalist have delivered to the people needs in Turkey in its last 50 years! You just think or may be you are led into believing that west democracy is the best thing ever happened to mankind! What about banning of Hijab in western democracies? Kindly broaden your view point. Delivering the governance is what matters the most for masses! Again I need not to repeat what I said earlier in my comment.Recommend

  • RHR

    Again the angle was Erdogan’s win on Turkey’s social fabric and not on economy. These are two seperate anglesRecommend