Turkey, once our strong ally in the Middle East and now one of our biggest threats, and its democracy are in decline. Over the weekend, Turkish citizens voted to grant current President Recep Tayyip Erdogan broader, tyrannical powers. Since his ascendancy in 2013, supporters of Western style democracy have had plenty to worry about. Now, the wonders of “direct democracy” may have led to its own demise. New constitutional rules may allow Erdogan to stay in office until 2029.
Erdogan’s opposition is calling the election “fraudulent.” According to CNN, electoral authorities adjusted the rules at the last minute, counting unsealed ballots. Given that the vote split 51-49, the rule change creates additional cause for concern.
In his short time in office, Erdogan has never been a unifying leader. Many rightly see him as an extreme Islamic ideologue. Last summer, a faction of the Turkish army staged an unsuccessful coup against Erdogan to protect its democracy. When covering the coup, writers at the BBC noted that the Turkish army “has historically intervened in politics as it sees itself as the protector of Turkey’s secularism and democracy.”
One can only imagine how spooked they must be now. The coup failed largely because it did not have the widespread support of the people, despite their opposition to Erdogan. Additionally, the “no” votes clustered in urban areas. Were a coup to arise, there may be more public support than there was in 2016. David Pryce Jones at National Review argues that Turkey is now split into “irreconcilable halves.”
Just south of the Turkish border lies Syria, which is having enough of its own troubles. With an escalation in American intervention in the region, we can only hope that the moderate opponents of men like Erdogan will rise up to defend their nations’ peoples. The American military is the strongest fighting force in the world, but all the firepower in the world can’t govern for long. Native leaders will need to rise up to protect the democracy that Turks have historically held dear.