In a referendum on Sunday, Turkish citizens approved a series of amendments to their constitution that abolish the position of prime minister and grant near-dictatorial powers to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of the Islamist AKP party. Steven A. Cook sees the results as spelling the end of the Turkish Republic created in 1921 by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk:
Turkey’s Islamists have long venerated the Ottoman period [that ended in 1921]. In doing so, they implicitly expressed thinly veiled contempt for the Turkish Republic. . . When . . . Erdogan and his predecessor Abdullah Gul broke with [the Islamist old guard] and created the AKP, they jettisoned its anti-Western rhetoric, committed themselves to advancing Turkey’s European Union candidacy, and consciously crafted an image of themselves as the Muslim analogues to Europe’s Christian Democrats. Even so, they retained traditional Islamist ideas about the role of Turkey in the Middle East and the wider Muslim world.
Thinkers within the AKP . . . harbored reservations about the compatibility of Western political and social institutions with their predominantly Muslim society. But the AKP leadership never acted upon this idea, choosing instead to undermine aspects of Ataturk’s legacy within the framework of the republic.
That is no longer the case. . . .
With massive imbalances and virtually no checks on the head of state, who will now also be the head of government, the constitutional amendments render the [1921 constitution] and all subsequent efforts to emulate the organizational principles of a modern state moot. It turns out that Erdogan, who would wield power not vested in Turkish leaders since the sultans, actually is a neo-Ottoman.
Erdogan’s ambition helped propel Turkey to this point. But unlike the caricature of a man who seeks power for the sake of power, the Turkish leader has a vision for the transformation of Turkey in which the country is more prosperous, more powerful, and more Muslim, meaning conservative and religious values should shape the behavior and expectations of Turks as they make their way in life. . . . Erdogan needs the legal cover to pursue his broader transformative agenda. And the only way it seems that he can accomplish that is by making himself something akin to a sultan.