Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is calling for a new “democratic” constitution to replace the existing document that was drawn up by the country’s generals in the wake of their last hard coup in 1980. “I believe that our new constitution will reflect the popular will and crown the objectives we have set for the 100th anniversary of our republic,” Erdogan said in a Feb. 10 speech.
He has tasked his own party to get to work and invited opposition parties to join in the effort to come up with a text by 2023, the centenary of the modern republic founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. 2023 is also when the next presidential and parliamentary elections are due to be held. With his popularity sagging, Erdogan faces the prospect of defeat for the first time since his Justice and Development Party (AKP) shot to power in 2002.
And as the June 2019 rerun of the municipal elections in Istanbul showed, even with the system so decisively rigged in Erdogan’s favor, defeat can become unavertable when the opposition unites against him. As such, Erdogan’s talk of amending the constitution — it’s already been changed 19 times — is seen as straight out of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s playbook. The purpose is to rewrite the rules yet again in his own favor. It’s also to divert attention from swelling discontent over high prices, mounting poverty and unemployment, and endemic corruption. Either way, it rings hollow. Repression keeps growing. Tens of thousands of people have been locked up on specious terror charges. Torture under detention is back with a vengeance. In 2020, Freedom House ranked Turkey as “not free” for the fifth year running.