Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Turkish Referendum Establishes an Autocratic Presidential State

           By a slim margin, despite oppression by Turkey’s authoritarian government that precluded a free and fair political campaign, as well as election irregularities, Turkish voters narrowly approved a constitutional referendum that establishes a presidential state that gives its president autocratic powers.

            Turkey was founded after the breakup of the Ottoman Empire that followed the First World War as a secular, parliamentary republic led by a prime minister with a more ceremonial president as head of state.  Under its current president, it had already unofficially turned into an Islamist presidential dictatorship even before the referendum makes it official.

            Members of the opposition have been imprisoned, especially since the authoritarian president’s crackdown which followed the attempted military coup d’etat in July, as I have been posting.  Tens of thousands of people have been sacked or imprisoned, especially in the military, which had long been the guarantor of Turkish democracy, including in the judiciary, as the independence of that branch of government has been eliminated.  There have also been more arrests of journalists and closures of independent media since the coup.  During the campaign, demonstrations were banned.  Turkey, like Venezuela and Russia, is one of the examples of the global rise of authoritarianism among democratically-elected governments.

            The Trump Administration’s United States Department of State issued a mildly-worded statement that, although it cited election irregularities, called upon Turkey’s government and opposition to work together, as if there were no oppression by the Turkish regime, and that Turks were informed about politics in their country through an independent press and the opposition were to free to engage in public debate.  It was even more appalling that President Donald Trump congratulated the Turkish authoritarian president for grabbing additional power through his tainted referendum victory.  

           Trump has demonstrated a pattern of not speaking up for pro-democratic protests, as in Russia and elsewhere and for making false moral equivalences between oppression by foreign dictatorships and supposed American misdeeds.  As a result, the U.S. loses moral credibility and becomes less of a beacon for hope for dissidents and all those who long for or cherish freedom around the world at a time when liberty and representative government are on the defensive against authoritarianism.  

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