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Sunday, April 16, 2017

Turkey Takes Big Step on Road to Making Erdogan a Caliph

The natural evolution of Islam is toward Sharia

Erdogan tightens grip on Turkey with
narrow referendum win
The Globe and Mail

From the moment he was first elected to Turkish high office as a reformist leader in 2003, Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s opponents have painted him as a Trojan-horse candidate hiding some darker agenda – specifically, a potential Islamic overthrow of Turkey’s nine-decade-old secular democracy.

On Sunday, Mr. Erdogan’s apparent narrow victory in a constitutional-change referendum turned at least some of those fears into reality. In a vote the opposition has vowed to challenge, the result cements Mr. Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian tendencies into permanent rules that allow the Turkish President to remain in power for another decade, to eliminate key checks and balances, and to wield formidable personal control over legislation and appointments of military and justice officials.

The constitutional changes over which Turks voted on Sunday, if recognized, will make Mr. Erdogan not so much an Ottoman-style sultan or Iranian-style theocrat but more a president-in-perpetuity in the mould of Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

That is, he has become another elected leader of a once-successful democracy who has managed to alter the constitution, eliminate checks and balances, and quash or intimidate opposition forces so as to guarantee himself more or less unchecked power within a nominally democratic system. As Turkish opposition leaders noted Sunday night, Mr. Erdogan has managed to erase much of the democratic infrastructure Mustafa Kemal Ataturk put in place in the 1920s, replacing it not with a return to Islamic rule (or not yet) but with the instruments of pure personal power.

Yes, for now!

Despite having won the referendum by a very narrow margin – 51.3 per cent to 48.7 per cent, according to official results, with 87 per cent of Turkey’s 58 million eligible voters casting a ballot – Mr. Erdogan spoke Sunday night of taking on even greater powers, declaring that he would attempt to reinstate the death penalty, which was abolished in 2002, and push for further changes. “We’ve got a lot to do; we are on this path but it’s time to change gears and go faster,” he declared in his victory speech.

Yet the most visible outcome of Sunday’s referendum may be a Turkey that is violently divided against itself and ostracized by its neighbours in Europe and the Middle East. The referendum marks the culmination of five years during which Mr. Erdogan has burned the bridges he carefully built during his first decade in power with European neighbours, minority groups and political opponents.

His reputation as a uniter has gradually evaporated over the past few years as he has violently crushed democracy protests; waged relentless war against the Kurdish populations he once courted; denounced the European leaders he once hoped to join as “Nazis” and threatened to flood their countries with refugees; alienated his partners in NATO by taking an ambiguous and counterproductive role in the Syrian civil war; and used last year’s bungled military coup attempt as a pretext for arresting or purging more than 175,000 officials and jailing more than 120 journalists.

After all, Sunday’s vote did not reflect a consensus around his rule so much as a deeply divided Turkey. Urbanites and more educated Turks decisively rejected the constitutional changes, with six of Turkey’s eight largest cities, including Istanbul and Ankara, delivering No majorities. Those cities erupted in protest Sunday night, with crowds filling the streets of Istanbul chanting “Thief, murderer Erdogan,” Ankara crowds banging kitchen pots and street battles between Erdogan supporters and opponents raging in Izmir.

Turkey's concentrated bombing of Syrian Kurds

Likewise, it appears that Turkey’s Kurds, Alawites, Armenians and other minorities – who make up more than a fifth of the population – strongly rejected the changes, as regions with large minority populations voted decidedly No. Electoral maps showed a large swath of Yes majorities across the rural and religious centre of the country, with the urban and minority-dominated regions around the periphery rejecting the proposals strongly. The vote is likely to be viewed by those groups as a majority population of Anatolian Turks imposing their political will on the rest of the country.

With Erdogan's support coming from the more devout Muslims, his power will also come from them. He will have no choice, not that he wants one, but to take Turkey in the direction of Sharia. Most Muslim countries will gravitate toward a more and more extreme form of Islam. It's happening in Iran and Pakistan, it happened in Egypt but for a coup, the Taliban made it happen in Afghanistan for a season and many groups are trying to make it happen in many other countries. It is the natural evolution of Islam!

The results were immediately contested by the major opposition parties. The third largest party, the Kurdish-based HDP party, declared that it would appeal a third of the votes.

Yet whatever the official outcome, it is clear that tens of millions of Turks voted willingly and often enthusiastically to turn their controversial President into something more like an authoritarian ruler – despite the fact that Mr. Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) has never quite won a majority of the popular vote.

What appears to have driven so many voters to his side was the force that has allowed him to keep opposition parties at bay for the past several years: Fear.

If the messages of most of Mr. Erdogan’s first decade – during which he served as Prime Minister – was unity and reconciliation, the message in recent years – especially after he was elected President in 2014 – has been one of fear and isolation.

Turkey’s sizable Kurdish minority, whom Mr. Erdogan courted as Prime Minister by legalizing their language and political parties, ending state persecutions and making gestures toward minority rights and “distinct society” status, has become more or less an official enemy, with Turkey’s Kurdish cities bombed more heavily than many in neighbouring Syria and even moderate Kurdish movements regarded as terrorist threats.

Likewise, last year’s coup attempt allowed Mr. Erdogan to demonize virtually any political moderates or opposition figures as threatening members of the “deep state” linked to the Islamist Gulen movement. His hostility toward opposition was visible in the 2013 Gezi Park democracy protests in Istanbul, which he crushed and denounced, and in his government’s long record of arresting and silencing critical journalists, which reached a peak last year with the takeover or shutdown of major media chains.

And after having spent a decade as a pro-European, free-trade leader dedicated to getting his country into the European Union, Mr. Erdogan has now turned aggressively against European institutions and leaders, taking a politically and increasingly economically isolationist stand.

One plausible reading holds that Mr. Erdogan’s shift to authoritarianism was the fault of European leaders: The moment they began rejecting Turkey’s EU ambitions, he gave up on much of his modernizing agenda and launched his quest for personal power at any cost.

Another theory holds that Mr. Erdogan’s shift is Middle Eastern or Russian in inspiration: He simply joined a bloc of emerging-economy leaders who saw “managed democracy” and authoritarianism as the best way to avoid personal defeat. Whatever the cause, Turkey emerges from Sunday’s referendum a country that has fallen, in a surprisingly short period, off the world’s democratic ledger.

Erdogan says resumption of death penalty could be up for referendum next

If Erdogan gets the death penalty approved, the Dardanelles
will run red with the blood of his political enemies
then there will be nothing stopping him

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and his wife Emine © Murad Sezer / Reuters

After claiming victory in a referendum that greatly expands his powers, the President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan has strongly hinted that the time has come for Turkey to consider reinstating the death penalty.

Erdogan used his victory speech on Sunday night to reveal that he will “immediately” discuss bringing back the capital punishment with Prime Minister Binali Yildirim and the leader of the nationalist opposition.

“If it [a parliament bill] comes in front of me, I will approve it,” the Turkish leader said as cited by AFP. “But if there is no support [from in parliament]... then what shall we do?”

“Then we could have another referendum for that,” Erdogan added.

The move could bring an ultimate end to Turkey’s long stalled efforts to join European Union. Accession negotiations have been sluggish for decades and were temporarily suspended in November 2016, with the EU citing Ankara's "disproportionate” crackdown following last year’s failed coup.

European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker said a return of the death penalty would be a "red line” in Turkey's EU membership bid. "If the death penalty is reintroduced in Turkey, that would lead to the end of negotiations,” he told Germany's Bild newspaper in March.

Members of the European Parliament has said that the re-introduction of the capital punishment in Turkey would lead to a formal suspension of the accession process.

“The unequivocal rejection of the death penalty is an essential element of the Union acquis,” they said.

In the run up to Sunday's vote, Erdogan suggested that Turkey may reevaluate its relations with the EU if the constitutional amendments passed. He said he would have more leverage when negotiating with Brussels, claiming "it will be a different Turkey” then. He also suggested a “Brexit-like” referendum on whether the country should continue to try and join the union.

With most of the ballots counted, over 51 percent of the electorate have voted in favor of handing Erdogan greater powers. The president called the ‘yes’ vote a historic decision by the Turkish people, expressing hope that it will benefit the country.

During the victory speech he also said everyone should respect the nation's decision, and added Turkey would “shift gears” in the coming period.