Venice Commission: Turkey ‘on the road to autocracy’

Turkish Minute

March 1, 2017


A body of constitutional law experts has warned of a “one-person regime” in Turkey in the wake of proposed constitutional amendments that will establish an executive-style presidential system in the country, according to a report in the German Süddeutsche Zeitung on Wednesday.

The Venice Commission, an advisory body of constitutional law experts, has described a “dramatic decline in democratic order” in Turkey. The commission, which advises the Council of Europe, one of the continent’s human rights bodies separate from the European Union, reported that the proposed changes to the constitution in Turkey place the country “on the road to an autocracy and a one-person regime,” according to the German newspaper.

In January, Turkey’s Parliament approved a series of constitutional amendments approved by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that would transform the political order into an executive-style presidential system, effectively widening the scope of powers of the position.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), backed by the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), pushed through the legislation that President Erdoğan says will bring the strong leadership needed to prevent a return of the fragile coalition governments of the past.

The Republican People’s Party (CHP) and pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) fear the reform will fuel authoritarianism.

Parliament’s approval paved the way for a nationwide referendum on the amendments, which would give the president, a traditionally more ceremonial role, the power to dismiss ministers and Parliament, issue decrees, declare emergency rule and appoint figures to key positions, including the judiciary.

It would also allow the president to be a member of a political party, which is currently prohibited under the constitution as the presidency is expected to exercise impartiality.

The referendum on the constitutional amendments will be held on April 16.

‘Worst crisis in a generation’

The Venice Commission criticized Ankara’s decision to push through constitutional changes during a state of emergency, saying the “severe restrictions” of political freedoms jeopardize the necessary framework for such pivotal modifications to the law.

A failed coup in July 2016 prompted Turkish authorities to declare a state of emergency, which has witnessed a crackdown on freedoms of expression, association and assembly.

More than 43,000 soldiers, police officers, judges and teachers have been arrested for suspected involvement in the failed coup.

“With hundreds of thousands of people dismissed or detained without due process, an independent media silenced and Kurdish opposition members of parliament in jail, Turkey has been plunged into its worst crisis in a generation,” said Hugh Williamson, Human Rights Watch’s Europe and Central Asia director, in January.