Opinion: Turkey’s last chance

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Thursday, April 13, 2017

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The guest writer of today’s newsletter is Max Strasser, an editor in the Opinion section.
With important elections taking place these days everywhere from Kansas to France, you can be forgiven if this Sunday’s referendum in Turkey has slipped past your radar. But it’s worth your attention.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has proposed a set of constitutional amendments that would expand his power over the judicial system, limit the role of the Parliament, and give him the authority to declare some laws by decree. (If you want to go deep, the full text of the proposed changes is here. If you just want some more context, Human Rights Watch has a good fact sheet.)
It’s not much of a stretch to call Mr. Erdogan a strongman. Over the past 15 years, he has muzzled the news media, sent many political opponents to jail or into exile, and purged the government bureaucracy of his enemies. But changing the Constitution would be a serious escalation.
Writing recently in Al Jazeera, Ayse Sozen Usluer, an official in Mr. Erdogan’s office, said the purpose of the amendments is to “solve Turkey’s chronic administration problems which have held the progress of the country hostage for decades.” But many people see it as something much more insidious.
In an Op-EdElmira Bayrasli chronicles Mr. Erdogan’s rule and says it may be too late to rescue Turkey from his damage. If he loses, she writes, the president will look for other ways to secure power. Still, she hopes that the referendum is defeated. That “would keep alive the prospect that once this president is no longer in office, Turkey can finally have a shot at curbing the power of its rulers and, perhaps someday, making way for representative, inclusive democracy.”
And what happens in Turkey matters not just for the 75 million people who live there. Mr. Erdogan has been something of a model for the populists and “illiberal democrats” ascendant these days from Hungary to the Philippines and beyond.
The most recent polls have “yes” ahead by a point or two, but anything could happen. I asked Mustafa Akyol, a contributing opinion writer and a veteran Turkish political columnist, for his thoughts. “In any case, I am afraid Turkey will have difficult years ahead,” he told me. “We should all think of ways to minimize the damage and keep up hope.”
The full Opinion report from The Times, including Arthur Brooks on how to handle protesters at town hall meetings, follows.
David Leonhardt is off this week.
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