On March 14, 2003, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was elected Prime Minister of Turkey.
Since then, he and his Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP, Law and Justice Party) has slowly expanded its vise-grip on the Turkey’s government, judiciary, education system and, ultimately following the failed 2016 coup d’état, the military.
Erdoğan’s regime is autocratic, and is seeing the country slowly move away from a largely secular quasi-functioning semi-democracy to Islamist presidential dictatorship. He does the normal autocrat things like building himself lavish palaces on previous public land, rigging elections, and using grand dictator rhetoric like “it’s me or chaos.”
Today, Turks go to the polls to decide a constitutional referendum. The referendum will give Erdoğan (now President of Turkey) unprecedented powers. Held under a formal State of Emergency, the constitutional amendments include barring anyone with “relations” to members of the military from serving in Parliament, extending the term of parliament, making the President of Turkey the head of government, giving him the power to sack government ministers and the Vice President, transferring several executive powers away from Parliament and to the President, and giving the President power to create entirely new states.
The amendments erode the separation of powers in the fragile democracy. Parliament would become effectively powerless, while the President would be able to act in all three branches of government.
The campaign has been dirty, with the “Evet” (yes) campaign accusing the “Hayır” (no) campaign of being backed by the PKK and FETO. Indeed, the Kurdish party HDP is vigorously backing the No campaign.
The Police have been reluctant to treat both the Yes and No campaigns equally. In January the Police attempt to arrest university students campaigning for No for “insulting the president”. An MP for the opposition CHP was arrested for “insulting religious values” campaigning for No. Municipalities held by parties supporting Yes have limited No groups’ ability to assemble, and a study showed that the Yes campaign got 90% of airtime on state media.
There has been a stunning lack of coverage on this in the western media. It may be the single most important election held this year. Turkey is a NATO member state and a vital US ally, bridging the Middle East and Europe. It’s position is extremely important in regards to peace and US influence in both regions. Yet no one seems to know it’s happening, or what either result means for NATO, the region and the world.