On Monday July 9 Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan held his swearing in ceremony for the new expanded presidency. Full of pomp, including parade horses, an Ottoman military band, a flower-strewn motorcade and throngs of adoring crowds, the event took place in front of the gargantuan presidential palace that Mr. Erdogan carved out of a “protected” nature reserve several years ago.
The “executive presidency’s” new powers include the ability to declare (or renew) a state of emergency at will, a veto on all legislation, the ability to issue decrees that stand in for legislation, authority to sign all treaties and appoint all ambassadors, the right to draw up and enact the state’s budget, enhanced protection against prosecution for any wrongdoing, the right to appoint all cabinet ministers without approval from parliament, authority to appoint six of the thirteen supreme court justices (including the justice minister and his undersecretary of course), the ability to remove any civil servant from their position at will, direct and complete authority over Turkey’s intelligence agencies, and more.
Perhaps as a way of celebrating his imminent coronation, Mr. Erdogan fired another 18,000 civil servants two days before the ceremony. This brings the total of state employees sacked during successive states of emergency in Turkey to 152,000, with 79,000 of those in jail awaiting trial on various ambiguous charges. The imprisoned civil servants will keep company for the hundreds of journalists Mr. Erdogan has put behind bars during the last few years, keeping Turkey well ahead of China as the world’s top jailer of journalists. Some 5,822 academics and 4,463 judges and prosecutors have also lost their jobs since July 2016 and 189 media outlets were shut down.
Some 22 heads of state and 28 prime ministers and parliament speakers from different countries attended the presidential swearing-in ceremony on Monday. Most of these were from the Balkans, some central Asian countries, and sub-Saharan Africa – small countries to which Turkey deployed increasing amounts of economic assets during AKP rule. In the Middle East, only Qatar sent its head of state, and only Venezuela did so of all the states in the Americas. Russia, the Palestinian Authority, and the Kurdistan Regional Government sent their Prime Ministers to the ceremony. No Western European or NATO country sent a head of state or prime minister. Of the countries bordering Turkey, only Bulgaria sent its head of state.
Attendance at the ceremony thus seemed to indicate that while Mr. Erdogan has some friends abroad, he also suffers from many problems with neighboring states and the West. Although he is probably envious of the executive president’s new powers, US President Donald Trump did not even send vice-president Mike Pence to Ankara for the coronation (and the vice-president in the United States has few duties other than attending such ceremonies abroad).
Attendees at the ceremony thus seemed to fall into four categories: first, small and weaker countries far from Turkey whose friendship can be bought relatively easily (some sub-Saharan African states and Venezuela); second, small and weak states or autonomous regions in close proximity to Turkey who cannot afford to alienate Mr. Erdogan (Bulgaria, Iraqi Kurdistan, North Cyprus, the Palestinian Authority); third, more powerful realists interested in maintaining their links with Mr. Erdogan’s Turkey (Russia and Pakistan); and lastly, genuine allies and friends of Mr. Erdogan’s Turkey (Qatar and Azerbaijan).
This is not a long list for a country with serious problems internally and right next door in places like Syria. It is certainly not a list that matches the ambitions of Mr. Erdogan or his former foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, who once paraded a Turkish policy of “zero problems with neighbors.”
Turkey’s two most pressing problems on which Mr. Erdogan could use his new powers are the economy and domestic conflict. For the first, Mr. Erdogan has promised nothing short of miracles. Against all accepted economic logic, he plans to tackle a falling lira and rising inflation (15 percent last month) by lowering interest rates. He promised Turks that “There is no stopping for us until we bring Turkey – which we saved from plotters, coupists and political and economic hitmen, street gangs and terrorist organizations – to among the top 10 economies in the world.” International credit rating agencies do not seem impressed by the rhetoric, however, continuing to rate Turkey’s credit poorly, with a “negative outlook” for the future.
For the second challenge of domestic conflict and societal polarization, Mr. Erdogan has promised to be the president of all Turks. Given his alliance with the extreme, far-right National Movement Party (MHP) and his rhetoric and actions against and all dissident, however, it almost looks like only Sunnis who vote AKP or MHP are the Turks of today’s regime. Such does not bode well for the future.
David Romano has been a Rudaw columnist since 2010. He holds the Thomas G. Strong Professor of Middle East Politics at Missouri State University and is the author of numerous publications on the Kurds and the Middle East.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Rudaw.