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September 21, 2017

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Referendum win may prove costly for Erdogan

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has probably been weakened rather than strengthened by grasping for even more power. Last summer, he dramatically and personally turned back an attempted military coup, using social media to urge the people of Turkey to resist. That showed courage as well as shrewdness.

The April 16 referendum addressed giving significantly expanded power to the once largely ceremonial office of president. The post of prime minister would be abolished. The legislature would be expanded and also weakened. The death penalty would probably be restored.

Erdogan and allies quickly declared victory after the voting, but the outcome remains unclear. There are accusations of irregularities and even fraud in handling ballots. The reported victory margin of 51.4 percent was well below the government margin in the last parliamentary election.

Controversy over the results is certain to continue for some time, with the possibility that Erdogan may seek to repress dissent. For those observing from other nations, three realities should be kept in mind.

First, in contrast to other Muslim states, Turkey has a history of involvement in both Europe and Central Asia. In 2015, Turkey was president of the G-20. These nations account for approximately 85 percent of the world's gross economic product. Beginning with the Ataturk revolution of the 1920s, Turkey has been viewed as a bridge between Islam and the West.

Second, since World War II Turkey has maintained good military security relations with most European nations and the United States, despite both the failure of the European Union to approve membership, and the disastrous U.S. invasion of Iraq. Turkey possesses strategic sea and land shipping routes, including the Strait of Bosphorus which controls Black Sea access.

Third, Turkey represents a unique marriage of firmly rooted Muslim religious and cultural attitudes with Western governmental and social institutions and practices. This draws on the nation's Ottoman history, which combined religious and secular outlooks.

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