I nominate Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, president of Turkey, as the most inconsistent, mysterious, and therefore most unpredictable major politician on the world stage. His victory in a referendum last Sunday formally bestows him with near-dictatorial powers that leave Turkey, the Middle East, and beyond in a greater state of uncertainty than ever.
Here are some of the puzzles:
Mystery #1: Holding the referendum. The Turkish electorate voted on April 16 in a remarkable national plebiscite that dealt not with the usual topic – floating a bond or recalling a politician – but with fundamental constitutional changes affecting the very nature of their government: Should the country continue with the flawed democracy of the past 65 years or centralize political power in the presidency? Under the new dispensation, the prime minister vaporizes and the president holds vast power over parliament, the judiciary, the budget, and the military.
Turks generally saw the 18 proposed changes to the constitution as a momentous decision. Famed novelist Elif Şafak spoke for most when she wrote that Turkey’s referendum “could alter the country’s destiny for generations to come.” After the referendum passed, some of those opposed to it cried in the streets. “Turkey as we know it is over; it is history” wrote Yavuz Baydar, a journalist. Defense & Foreign Affairs assessed the referendum as perhaps “the most significant and transformative change in Eurasia, the Middle East, and parts of Africa since the collapse of the USSR in 1990-91.”
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