Referendum for Erdoğan: will nostalgia for the Ottoman Empire help create a presidential republic?
If I were a sultan… What does the Turkish president want from this upcoming change of the Constitution?
A constitutional referendum is to take place in Turkey in a month. As a result, it will be known what a system of government – presidential or parliamentary – the republic will have. Heated debates about pros and cons of the possible stronger role of the president are taking place in Ankara and other cities of the country. At the same time, the ruling party is releasing motivating videos urging to vote for changes in the major law of the country. In a new article written for our online newspaper, political expert and Realnoe Vremya's columnist Gumer Isaev explains what Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is expecting from the upcoming will of the Turkish people.
Erdoğan on way to absolute power
The talk about a referendum that would give Erdoğan absolute authority that he needs has not been taking place for the first time. The major Turkish politician's idea was clear as early as 2014 when Erdoğan participated and won in the presidential election having got 52% votes. Considering that Turkey is going through uneasy times linked with problems in both foreign and domestic policy, Erdoğan has an uneasy task that is to provide the support of both the Parliament and population concerning the change of the Constitution. It can be said that all actions of the Turkish president are designed for success of the future constitutional referendum that would give Erdoğan true power of sultan in the country that was democratic in the past.
In the fight for the throne, Erdoğan totally controls the media and keeps the state of emergency that allows to cope with any critics. The conservative urban and rural electorate traditionally supports the president that remembers the first government stage of Justice and Development Party that enabled to collect money and get out of the poorness. Conservative and religious moods and nostalgia for the former power of the Ottoman Empire continue being successfully used by parties' political consultants. The ''funny'' coup on 15 July 2016 allowed to apply the state of emergency and purge all doubting people from the army and state structures.
But there are several factors that seriously worsen the ''sultan''s life. First of all, the war in Syria. In my columns in Realnoe Vremya, I wrote many times that the Syrian campaign is the life-changing moment in the history of modern Turkey. The involvement of Turkey in the war in Syria was considered as a window of new possibilities for ''hawks'' in the Turkish establishment and those retro revanchists dreaming of a new Ottoman Empire. The fall of Assad's Ba'athist regime and pro-Turkish oppositionists' rise to power could really strengthen Turkey's positions on the geopolitical map of Near East. But everything went wrong – Assad's regime remained, Kurds woke up, and ISIS (Editor's Note: an organisation banned in Russia) came about.
Military actions like terrorist acts switched to Turkey. It was more difficult to fight against Kurdish and Syrian militias than oppositionist journalists and teachers in very Turkey. As a result of long negotiations with the USA, Russia, Turkey went to war in Syria having sent in troops within Operation Euphrates Shield. The small victorious war in Syria was launched by Erdoğan for the sake of the solution of several problems – to hit Kurds and not to allow the creation of territories along the Turkish border controlled by Kurds. Soldiers of the most powerful army of Near East were to go on foot to Manbij or Raqqa and create a big safety zone in Syria where it was planned to transport Syrian refugees from camps on Turkish territory.
The authentic Ottoman Empire took control of all Syria, Palestine and Egypt within a short period of time precisely 500 years ago, from 1516 to 1517. But after many weeks of sanguinary battles, ''new Ottomans'' headed by Erdoğan did not move further Al-Bab, which is 30 km far from the Turkish border. Americans entered Manbij, and the Syrian Army almost managed to join Kurdish enclaves. Now Turkey will have to go to direct conflict with Syrian forces (covered by the Russian Aerospace Forces) or Kurds covered by the USA to expand the control zone in Syria… Turkey is having ''strange friendship'' with Russia, also there is such a ''strange'' misunderstanding with the USA.
No money, but…
Economy became another issue the Turkish government needs to handle. The fall of the national currency and high inflation are the factors that have a negative impact on the power's image. In its pre-election campaigns, Justice and Development Party always reminded about economic achievements in the 2000s. But today not everything is good in the economy, several sectors are in a crisis.
At the end of February, a video that captured a curious incident with Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, who decided to talk to the people in one of the Turkish markets, appeared on the Internet. One of the sellers started to loudly complain about growing prices and inflation. But the minister did not answer and left the place in a hurry. It is difficult to say whether it was better for the Turkish minister to stop and complain about the absence of money and offer to stay strong.
In such conditions, the Turkish government can't help but focus on foreign and domestic enemies harming Turkey that only Erdoğan will be able to lead to a better neo-Ottoman future. It is necessary to change the Constitution, so that nobody will impede him from doing it.