November 3, 2016 | Policy Brief

Erdogan’s Blitz on Turkey’s Republic Day

November 3, 2016 | Policy Brief

Erdogan’s Blitz on Turkey’s Republic Day

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan issued two state-of-emergency decrees last week, dismissing 10,000 civil servants and shutting down 15 Kurdish media outlets. In the academic sphere, Erdogan granted himself the power to personally appoint university rectors. More alarmingly, the decrees brought in measures that severely undermine rule of law. Detainees can now be held up to six months with no access to legal counsel, and even then with no guarantee of attorney-client privilege. The decree also allows foreigners to be deported without a court order.

Erdogan issued these decrees on October 29, Turkey’s Republic Day, marking 93 years since the birth of a free republic from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire. The message was unmistakable. He strengthened further his one-man rule on a day symbolizing the wrestling of power from the hands of the Ottoman sultan-cum-caliph.

The Turkish presidency is a constitutionally symbolic office. Yet, Erdogan has, in contravention of the constitution, run the Turkish cabinet since 2014. His grip on power recently reached a new zenith after the July 15 coup attempt, when he declared a nation-wide state of emergency. Since then, Erdogan has issued decree after decree to purge anyone with alleged links to the movement of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara blames for the failed putsch.

The post-coup purges have already resulted in more than 110,000 sackings or suspensions among civil servants, and 37,000 arrests. More than 130 media outlets have been shut down. Three percent of all academics – nearly 4,000 from 106 universities – have lost their positions. On November 2, authorities issued arrest warrants for an additional 137 academics.

The purges have not been confined to Gulenists. On Monday, Turkey detained the editor-in-chief of the Turkish daily Cumhuriyet, the country’s oldest secular independent daily, along with 13 other journalists, including Kadri Gursel, a board member of the International Press Institute. The ludicrous allegations that the Cumhuriyet editor and Gursel are linked both to the Gulen network and the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) point to a widening group of targets.

Many opposition figures have also been detained or fired in the last three months – including leftist and secularist academics, Kurdish journalists and politicians, and two mayors of the majority-Kurdish southern province of Diyarbakir.

Erdogan’s powers are only likely to expand further. He recently extended the state of emergency by another three months, which will allow him to rule by decrees until January, if not longer. In the meantime, his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is preparing a draft constitution to formally replace Turkey’s parliamentary democracy with a centralized presidential system.

Erdogan’s advisors say such a system would be akin to the American one. But Turkey’s institutions are weak, devastated by the post-coup purges. Consolidated power for Erdogan will almost certainly lead to an emboldened presidency that presides over an ineffective parliament.

Aykan Erdemir is a former member of the Turkish parliament and a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, where Merve Tahiroglu is a research analyst. Follow them on Twitter @aykan_erdemir and @MerveTahiroglu