The rise of strongmen
The Turkish referendum on Sunday has returned President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to 12 additional years of rule with powers to amend Turkey’s Constitution; and the victory has been unexpectedly narrow. He is a tough angry man, and anger is associated with the Turkish tribe he comes from. Non-westernized Anatolia, the eastern part of Turkey, has taken its revenge on the western, Westernized part of the country; and people, particularly journalists who have suffered under him, predict despotism rather than democracy in Turkey in the coming days.
Just when people thought he had painted himself into a corner with toughness, Erdogan has ended up playing his cards right. U.S. President Donald Trump has sent him a message of congratulations for having become a dictator because he supported Trump’s decision to bomb Damascus “for having used a chemical agent against his own people.” Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has also praised him for being a great president. He had earlier closed down a chain of good Turkish schools in Pakistan run by Erdogan’s rival Fethullah Gulen in return for which Turkey had bought some homemade Pakistani trainer planes. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states are thankful he has opposed Iran’s penetration of Syria and Iraq, sending in Turkish troops to balance Iranian contingents.
The narrow margin in the referendum means there is going to be a lot of strife in Turkey in the coming days. Erdogan’s success in power has been owed to economic progress and if he doesn’t lose it with his excesses he will have to be tolerated for the next decade. Referendums defeat the spirit of democracy by violating the principle of indirection under “populism.” The European Union was stopped in its progress toward a constitution by referendums, and now the union itself is under threat. In the U.S., the victory of Trump by a narrow margin has led to anti-Trump demonstrations. The U.K., too, was pushed into an uncertain future outside the EU through a narrowly-won Brexit referendum. Prime Minister Theresa May has today called for early elections to secure a stronger mandate for Brexit negotiations. And in India, a hardline “Hindutva” leader, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is already demonstrating how despotism is practiced under democracy.