Turkey: Erdogan uses the state to build a bigger personal fiefdom

A gross erosion of human rights and democratic standards

De facto, Turkey already has a presidential system. And a directly elected, notionally ceremonial president in Recep Tayyip Erdogan who regards the state as a personal fiefdom and who, for some time, has wanted to make that reality de jure. New powers which the parliament agreed over the weekend should be devolved to him – and which will be put to referendum as constitutional changes – will also repeal current term limits and allow Erdogan to serve until 2029. If, that is, the voters re-elect him a couple of times. This is a likely prospect as he basks in near all-time high popularity ratings.

The reform Bill was approved on Saturday by 339 votes in the 550-member assembly after a rancorous debate marked by fistfights. Three MPs were hospitalised and one opposition member lost her artificial arm in a brawl. Erdogan's AKP supported the measures, backed by far-right nationalists of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). Its passage was eased by the fact that he has jailed 11 MPs of the liberal Kurdish HDP.

The amendments would enable the president to issue decrees, declare emergency rule, appoint ministers, judges and top state officials, abolish the prime minister’s office, and dissolve parliament. The opposition says these power strip away balances to Erdogan’s power. They will also allow the president to resume his notionally vacated leadership of the AKP.

Erdogan already holds many of the new powers by virtue of the emergency legislation enacted after an attempted coup in July. Since then he has had 100,000 state employees fired and jailed more than 40,000, including currently some 80 journalists. The president has hinted that he will now also back parliamentary moves to reintroduce the death penalty, a move that could decisively end any prospect of Turkish EU accession.

Despite understandable concern in the EU not to undermine the willingness of Turkey to halt the flow of migrants across the Mediterranean, it is crucial that the opposition of member states to the gross erosion of human rights and democratic standards is heard loud and clear.