Turkey's Controversial Referendum Brings More Challenges

Asia Pacific Daily, April 19, 2017 | 作者: Li Zixin | 时间: 2017-04-19 | 责编: Wang Jiapei
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Since founded in 1923, the modern Republic of Turkey has been the symbolic county in the Middle East and the Islamic world: the Islamic country with most successful secularization reform and one with the highest degree of democratization in the region.

The Turkish history has witnessed many constitutional referendums, most of which were successfully passed. Although the secularization and democratization of Turkey ever wavered, the general direction has never been changed. Turkey’s experience is considered as an example of political modernization for Middle Eastern and Islamic countries.

However, the situation has been changed since Erdogan became Prime Minister in 2003. The most striking feature is the rise of pan-Islamism and the acceleration of centralization. Thus, this constitutional referendum has led to tensions among the international community.

The controversial aspects and ones people are most concerned are as follows: i) to replace the parliamentary system with presidential system, and abolish the position of Prime Minister and cabinet; ii) to improve the authority of the President, abolish the rule that the President cannot join in any party and cancel the inquiry right of the Parliament; iii) the President has the power to appoint the senior judge and senior prosecutor, reduce the number of justices in the constitutional court from 17 to 15, among which the President appoints 12 while the parliament appoints 2.

More internal political shock, fewer geo-political influence

The winning of the referendum is no doubt a great victory for Erdogan and may result in an inevitable restructuring of the political pattern in Turkey. In the direct leadership of President Erdogan, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) will have greater influence over domestic politics. At the same time, pan-Islamism and nationalism is expected to boost its influence in the Turkey’s political environment.

The future of the opposition is still uncertain since they are weak and dispersed. As the result of this referendum, it is possible that the opposition draw lesson from the ineffective integration and then strengthen the unity with each other in order to form a stable and unified union that jointly contain the ruling AKP. Notwithstanding, there exists another possibility, that the President may break up the opposition and prevent them from containing himself and the AKP.

Different from the uncertainty on the domestic politics, the referendum probably has little impact on the geopolitics, since Turkey is mainly focused on the Kurdish issue, the Syrian war, counter-terrorism, and bilateral relations with countries such as Israel and Iran. The national interests and regional development strategies of Turkey are the determining factors and driving forces.

No matter how the domestic politics changes, Turkey’s regional interests will remain the same. Therefore, the coherence of its foreign policy will continue, and the geopolitics may not be influenced by this referendum in a short term.

Relations with western allies still uncertain

In order to get the support from oversea Turkish citizens in Europe, many Turkish high-level officials canvassed in person, which met with oppositions and rejections from European countries. The diplomatic tensions between Turkey and European countries rose after last year’s military coup and the refugee issue. Now the relationship may become worse.

Currently, Turkey's cooperation with NATO is mainly based on fighting against extremist organizations, while on the core issue of the geopolitics - the Syrian civil war, Turkey chooses to cooperate more closely with Russia. After the referendum, Erdogan may have the intention to ease the relationship with its western allies. However it is unknown whether the western countries are willing to release the grudge and patch up the broken relations with Turkey. The expansion of ideological differences may cast a shadow over the recovery of the relationship.

The referendum is a manifestation of democracy, but the results of the referendum tend to deepen the rift of social opinions. Since the current international politics is fraught with the uncertainties of populism, how to bridge the differences and to achieve unity and sustainable development will test the wisdom of the future Turkish government presided by Erdogan.



Li Zixin, Research Assistant, Department for American Studies, China Institute of International Studies.



Source: Asia Pacific Daily, April 19, 2017.