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How the Turkish referendum has split up the community in Australia

The historic constitutional referendum in Turkey on Sunday resulted in a marginal victory, 51 per cent, for the incumbent president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling AK Party.

Certainly, the referendum was not a fair election. Entire state machinery, its immense resources and state controlled media were put to the full disposal of the “yes” campaign. Those declaring a “yes” vote were celebrated, while those with the courage to declare a “no” vote were labelled as traitors. Expectedly, there were immediate allegations of massive electoral fraud. It was a textbook “house always wins” case.

Despite these reservations, nothing will change the outcome. Erdogan has finally attained his long-time ambition to amass sweeping powers in executive presidency ending the era of parliamentary democracy in Turkish history.

When the modern Turkish republic was established in 1923 from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire, it was defined as a modern secular state. A few attempts at democracy did not work until 1946 when Turkey embarked on the democratic change. Even though there were a number of military coups, Turkey has always returned to a form of liberal democracy with separation of powers, rule of law and free media. As a member of NATO and candidate for EU membership, Turkey was seen as an ally of Europe and the West.

Despite these reservations, nothing will change the outcome. Erdogan has finally attained his long-time ambition to amass sweeping powers in executive presidency ending the era of parliamentary democracy in Turkish history.

When the modern Turkish republic was established in 1923 from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire, it was defined as a modern secular state. A few attempts at democracy did not work until 1946 when Turkey embarked on the democratic change. Even though there were a number of military coups, Turkey has always returned to a form of liberal democracy with separation of powers, rule of law and free media. As a member of NATO and candidate for EU membership, Turkey was seen as an ally of Europe and the West.

Erdogan’s first two terms in government (2002-08) saw improvements in democracy, liberal rights and concrete advancements towards EU membership. His government was supported by a broad coalition of liberal Turkish elite, the democratic educated class and the conservative masses. It was hailed by western leaders and media as a model Muslim country that successfully combined modernity, democracy and Islam.

Yet it all started to change with his third term in 2011 and the Arab Spring developments in the Middle East. Erdogan was encouraged by his supporters as the potential leader of the Muslim world. He took an active role in Egyptian and Syrian politics while he slowly ousted potential leaders in his party. Liberal and democratic circles have dropped their support from an increasingly authoritarian Erdogan.

Then came the 2013 corruption probe implicating Erdogan and four of his ministers with massive corruption related to circumvention of economic sanctions over Iran. To prevent charges going to court, Erdogan chose a harsher authoritarian line. He purged thousands of police officers and judges and closed down major media outlets, putting immense pressure on the remaining independent media.

 

 

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