President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has become the most powerful political leader in Turkey since the introduction of a multiparty democracy in 1950. He consolidated his power further by insisting on the resignation of the Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu earlier this month. President Erdogan has been coalescing his power base and dominating Turkey, since he himself became Prime Minister in 2003.
Turkey has become far more authoritarian in recent years. President Erdogan has attempted to deal with dissent by detaining and intimidating not only journalists, but academics as well. He uses anti-terrorism laws to drive this movement and has become quite successful in stamping out official discontent. He has brought charges of defamation against close to 2,000 individuals in the last 18 months alone.
Mr. Erdogan has been President since 2014. The post is constitutionally a non-partisan office in Turkey’s parliamentary system. Upon election to the presidency, he permitted Ahmet Davutoglu to become the head of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK). Mr. Davutoglu also became the new Prime Minister.
The two men have now dominated Turkish politics for over a decade. Davutoglu had been both a chief adviser and foreign minister to Mr. Erdogan. Over time, the President has come to see his former colleague as a threat to his own authority and growing power.
Former Prime Minister Davutoglu may well be replaced by the son in law of President Erdogan, who at present is the Minister of Energy.
President Erdogan is tightening his grip on the government and the society at large. He uses the growing menace of Kurdish terrorism and ISIS that threaten the country, as the reason for his recent actions.
The political instability inside Turkey is beginning to effect foreign investment, as the economic growth in the country becomes more uncertain. The growing governmental attack on the property rights of individuals who oppose President Erdogan, is beginning to unnerve investors both at home and abroad.
Erdogan now has his sights on changing the constitution so he can transfer more power from the Turkish Parliament to the presidency. He also wants to convey more authority from the judicial courts into his own hands, but needs to alter the present legal system to achieve this.
In order to engineer a modification in the constitution, President Erdogan will need to win back some of the 60 seats that the more leftist Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic party (HDP) now have in the legislature. If Erdogan is successful in this initiative in the next by-election, he would have the necessary votes to rewrite the Turkish constitution.
There are a total of 550 seats in the Grand National Assembly. After the elections of November of 2015, AK Party was able to garner 317 seats. Only 276 seats are required to form a government, but a total of 330 seats are needed for possible changes to the constitution. With the required three-fifths majority, new legislation will be then be put up for a national referendum.
If the ruling AK Party was able to capture 367 seats ( a two-thirds majority) in the legislature either alone or through a coalition, then any proposed changes to the constitution no longer need a referendum.
The most seats AK has ever held was back in 2002, when the party was able to capture a total of 363 seats. The party had been losing seats since, in each subsequent election. In 2007 the total dropped to 341 seats and in 2011 it dipped further to 327 seats, reaching a low of 258 in the June 2015 election.
The rebound occurred last November, where a public far more worried about security gave the ruling party its present 317 seat majority.
The Republican People’s Party (CHP) is the oldest political party, tracing it origins back to when Turkey became a republic in 1919. As it now holds 134 slots in the legislature, it has become the main opposition to the party and presidency of Erdogan.
CHP identifies itself as a modern social-democratic party faithful to the founding principles of modern Turkey.
The remaining Nationalist Movement Party MHP has 40 seats. It is a far right political party that adheres to Turkish nationalism and Euroscepticism. It has supported the ruling AK Party on numerous occasions. Together these two parties are just 10 seats short, to make major constitutional changes without public approval through a referendum.
Increasingly it is getting difficult for European allies and the United States, to ignore the trampling of civil rights and the progressively dictatorial actions being taken by President Erdogan and his government.
It is a difficult diplomatic situation, as Turkey is an ally of the West through the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The country is also seen as a reluctant ally in the Western war against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
The German government and the European Union decided to reach an agreement earlier this year, so Turkey would limit the flow of refugees that were pouring into Europe. Even as the deal was being negotiated, the Turkish government using an ever complaint court system took possession of an opposition media group.
Part of the accord reached with Turkey is to restart the long stalled process of admitting Turkey into the European Union. However, escalating moves by President Erdogan against the press and members of the intelligentsia will in the end make these talks fruitless.
One prize the government of Turkey has long sought, is to be part of the Schengen agreement. This would permit visa free travel for Turkish citizens, throughout the European Union. Again, given the present political circumstances in Europe, there is little likelihood of this being approved by an increasingly fractious membership.
The United States is finding the attitude of Turkey towards the Kurdish groups fighting ISIS, tough to deal with as well. The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) operating in the southeastern part of Turkey has long been a problem for the central government in Ankara. The group has used aggressive tactics in promoting autonomy for Kurds living inside Turkey. The demand for complete Kurdish independence had been abandoned back in the 1990’s.
PKK has now allied itself with Syrian Kurds who are fighting against both the government of Assad and ISIS. As a consequence they are deemed as valuable assets by the United States. The alliance between these two groups have made President Erdogan step up operations against the Kurds fighting in Syria, much to the dismay of the American government.
President Erdogan seems willing to risk a civil war in his own country, in order to stop the possibility of the establishment of a Greater Kurdistan. This new entity could include the almost independent Kurds in northern Iraq, Syria and a large swath of territory in southeast Turkey.
As the Kurds comprise anywhere from 10% to 30% of the population of Turkey, such a development would be a disaster for the central government. There is an estimate of anywhere from 14 to 17 million Kurds residing inside of Turkey at present.
President Erdogan uses this prospect as a major propaganda tool and excuse to not only oppress the Kurdish minority, but his political enemies throughout Turkey. As the suppression of democratic voices in Turkey escalate, it will eventually bring about a crisis not only domestically, but internationally as well.