Erdoğan’s Pyrrhic Victory?

ISTANBUL – Turkish voters had a clear-cut choice when they cast ballots on Easter Sunday in a referendum on 18 constitutional amendments already approved by the National Assembly. A “Yes” vote would change their country’s political system and usher in a new era in Turkish history. More than a century of parliamentarianism would be replaced by an alla turca presidential system that is tailor-made for the current incumbent, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Given Turkey’s considerable experience in writing constitutions, most legal experts deem the amendments, which voters endorsed by a razor-thin margin, regressive at best. Those who drafted them seem to have ignored 150 years of Turkish history, not to mention the most fundamental lessons of liberal democracy.

The political system that will be operational in 2019, after parliamentary and presidential elections that year, will abolish the post of prime minister and concentrate executive power in the hands of a president who also leads a political party. The National Assembly – the Turkish Republic’s founding institution – will lose many of its powers, and its capacity to serve as a check on the president will be severely curtailed, because the president can dissolve it at any time.

Moreover, changes in how judges are appointed will give the president decisive power over the judiciary, too. The judiciary’s already-fragile independence will be further weakened, and the separation of powers will become meaningless.