By Jonathan Lahdo
Jonathan Lahdo is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania studying business and international studies.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the President of Turkey, has stirred much controversy in the media recently, frequently being likened to a dictator and criticised for his statements and governmental proposals due to his interest in significantly realigning the power distribution in the Turkish government.
Erdogan first served as Prime Minister of Turkey in 2002, the year after his party, Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi [Justice and Development Party] or AKP, was formed. He went on to become the country’s first directly elected president in 2014. The role at the time was largely ceremonial, restricted by many factors, though his current proposed reforms seek to change that. 
The primary foundation on which he was able to sustain popularity with the Turkish people was his party’s ability to maintain economic stability and instigate growth. Up through 2014, Turkey’s economy grew at an annual average rate of 4.5%, while inflation was kept under control following a period in the 1990s when it exceeded 100%. 
Despite his positive influence on the economy, Erdogan has been criticised for his authoritarian style of rule and demonstrated values that don’t align with those of modern-day Turkey. He has been known to stifle those who speak out against him, opting to detain, harass, and in some cases put on trial or deport both Turkish and foreign journalists who criticize him. Furthermore, many Turks take issue with his views on religion and its role in the state. The modern Turkish Republic was founded on values of secularism, which Erdogan claims to be committed to, yet he has tried to criminalize adultery, create “alcohol-free” zones, and encourage Turks to more openly express their religious views. 
The president has most recently come under fire following his approval of a constitutional reform bill that would create an executive presidency in Turkey akin to that of the United States and France. 
In its current form, the Turkish constitution places many restrictions on the power of the president. According to the document, “If the president-elect is a member of a party, his/her relationship with his party shall be severed and his/her membership of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey shall cease.”  The president can declare martial law or a state of emergency, and even issue decrees having the force of law, but only with the consent of the Council of Ministers, which he chairs.  Additionally, the constitution specifies that the Prime Minister, as chairperson of the Council of Ministers, shall ensure cooperation among the ministries, and supervise the implementation of the government’s general policy. The Council of Ministers has collective responsibility for the implementation of this policy. 
Among many others, these constitutional clauses create a system of checks and balances within the Turkish government designed to prevent an excessively high concentration of power within one executive position. Erdogan’s proposals, however, aim to eliminate this system and give the president an increased level of unrestricted authority.
First and foremost, Erdogan seeks to eliminate the role of the prime minister, replacing it with several vice-presidents under a significantly more powerful president. The consequences of this change extend beyond the dissolution of the general responsibilities of the prime minister: it would also allow the president to dissolve the national assembly and freely impose states of emergency. Finally, Erdogan’s proposal would allow for a partisan president. Many critics are wary of this given the likelihood of further empowerment of the AKP and its hyper-nationalist and increasingly religious tendencies. 
Despite the uncertainty that Erdogan’s actions present for the future of Turkey internally, they also have massive implications for the country on the global stage. For many years now, the Turkish republic has been trying to become a member state of the European Union. Prospects of their accession, however, are looking increasingly bleak, with many European leaders speaking out against Erdogan’s recent statements and actions. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, for example, told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper that Turkish accession to the EU “will not fail due to a lack of willingness on the part of EU members, but rather due to Turkey not wanting to introduce European standards.” Additionally, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said that “today Turkey is definitely further away from becoming a member of the European Union than ever before.” 
Erdogan’s presidency has been controversial since its early stages, with supporters and critics alike expressing their strong opinions on the matter. However, it is clear that the president wishes to make fundamental alterations to the balance of power within the Turkish government for his own gain.
 “Recep Tayyip Erdogan: Turkey's dominant president”. BBC News. 21st July, 2016. Accessed 23rd March, 2017. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-13746679
 “Turkey's Erdogan approves constitutional reform bill”. Al Jazeera. 10th February, 2017. Accessed 24th March, 2017. http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/02/president-erdogan-approves-constitutional-reform-bill-170210100019275.html
 Constitution of the Republic of Turkey. Part Three. Chapter Two. Section I. Subsection A. Article 101. Accessed 24th March, 2017 https://global.tbmm.gov.tr/docs/constitution_en.pdf
 Constitution of the Republic of Turkey. Part Three. Chapter Two. Section I. Subsection D. Article 104. Accessed 24th March, 2017 https://global.tbmm.gov.tr/docs/constitution_en.pdf
 Constitution of the Republic of Turkey. Part Three. Chapter Two. Section II. Subsection D. Article 112. Accessed 24th March, 2017 https://global.tbmm.gov.tr/docs/constitution_en.pdf
 Dominique Soguel. “Turkey constitutional changes: what are they, how did they come about and how are they different?”. The Independent. 21st January, 2017. Accessed 24th March, 2017. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/turkey-president-recep-tayyip-erdogan-referendum-constitutional-reform-a7539286.html
 “German Foreign Minister: Turkey 'further away from EU membership than ever”. Reuters. March 18th, 2017. Accessed 24th March, 2017. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-turkey-referendum-germany-gabriel-idUSKBN16P0EA
Photo Credit: Flickr User Daniel Snelson
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