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From The Socialist newspaper, 5 April 2017

Turkey: Erdogan seeks sweeping dictatorial powers in referendum

A 'no' vote in the referendum to hand Erdogan greater powers is essential - but the workers' movement must build a movement with a fighting, socialist programme

A 'no' vote in the referendum to hand Erdogan greater powers is essential - but the workers' movement must build a movement with a fighting, socialist programme   (Click to enlarge)

Sosyalist Alternatif (CWI Turkey) reporters

If the 16 April constitutional referendum called by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government results in a 'No' vote, it would constitute the beginning of the end of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's corrupt and polarising regime, which is based upon repression, chaos and fear.

However, a 'Yes' vote may also mark the start of Erdogan's desired dictatorship. This is why a No vote is so important; to help cut across this process before it is too late.

The AKP came to power in 2002 after an economic crisis. It gave millions of dollars to its supporters thanks to a subsequent economic growth, but the working class and the poor had to make do with crumbs.

The AKP made a fortune out of the poor and channelled that fortune to the rich in the form of subventions, grants, remissions of tax, etc.

Initially the AKP, by means of small concessions, portrayed itself as a party that stood for a peaceful resolution of the Kurdish question. It became the second-party after the pro-Kurdish HDP (Peoples' Democratic Party) in northern Kurdistan.

When the HDP decided to stand in elections as a party instead as individual independent candidates, they surpassed the anti-democratic 10% electoral threshold and took most of the AKP seats in northern Kurdistan.

This destroyed Erdogan's plans. His reply was to stop the peace resolution process and to rapidly switch to military repression against the Kurds.

Another section fooled by Erdogan was the left liberals, most of who are either in jail or suppressed. Many of these people had played a significant role during the 2010 referendum, when Erdogan declared his victory in overturning the previous military-written constitution.

Likewise, many of the AKP's founding leaders, including the ex-president Abdullah Gül and ex-speaker Bulent Arinc, have been purged from politics.

The AKP and Erdogan defeated the Kemalist military-bureaucracy by all kinds of undemocratic methods, in cooperation with the Gülen community, whose members infiltrated the state. The Gülenists are an Islamic religious and social movement led by Turkish preacher Fethullah Gülen, who has lived in the United States since 1999.

Many of the Gülenists are also in prison now, following a power struggle between them and Erdogan's faction. Gülen is accused by the Turkish government of being behind the unsuccessful military coup attempt on 15 July last year.

Today there is a new alliance between Devlet Bahceli, the leader of the far-right party MHP, and Erdogan.

Concentrated power

The referendum is important for Erdogan to sustain his political power, which is running out of battery life. The constitutional amendments, which consist of 18 articles, are paths to a dictatorship.

If those key articles come into force, all state power - legislative, executive and jurisdictional - will be concentrated in one man, Erdogan.

Furthermore, as the president will also be the leader of a political party, the state apparatus will be converted into a party state.

The Turkish economy has been slowing down for some time, which means there is no room left for the previous populist policies of the AKP government. Its ultra-nationalism and use of military repression against the Kurds led to the loss of AKP votes in Kurdish cities. That is why the only strategy of Erdogan's regime for the referendum is to whip up paranoia of 'everybody is against us', denouncing those intending to vote No as "terrorists", and using the resources of the state for the Yes campaign.

Erdogan's campaign uses provocations and cynicism. For a while, Israel was the main enemy, and then the "old brother" Syrian President Assad was next.

Russia was accused of digging a pit for Turkey to fall into since it supported the Assad regime. But since Russia and Syria tolerated Turkey's 'Euphrates Shield' (Turkish military intervention in Syria), the AKP government back-pedalled.

Now the AKP is critical of the USA for collaborating with the Kurdish armed force, the YPG (People's Protection Units)/PYD (Democratic Union Party), in northern Syria.

Lastly, due to conflicts with the German and Netherlands governments over holding Yes rallies among the Turkish people in those countries ahead of the referendum, the Erdogan regime tries to get more support on the basis of victimhood and nationalism.

Despite all these efforts by the AKP, almost all the straw polls show that the No vote is in the lead. However, many people justifiably think that Erdogan will prevent a No victory and that is why they think voting is pointless, a factor which can play into Erdogan's hands.

Resistance

For the last two years Turkey has been under a cloud of oppression, fear, terror and chaos. Newspapers and publishing houses are being shut down; journalists, academics, and public servants are dismissed and arrested, and strikes banned.

Each and every No vote will prepare the ground for the common resistance needed against the unbearable, inhuman conditions we live under.

But a victory for the Yes vote, while representing a significant setback, would not cement Erdogen's dictatorship permanently. It would not mean the disappearance of mass anger in society nor the economic crisis facing Turkish capitalism.

Whatever the outcome on 16 April, this mass frustration and anger needs to find its outlet in the building of a united workers' movement, with a bold socialist programme.

This would include defending the Kurdish people's right to self-determination, and taking the commanding sectors of the economy into democratic public ownership and management, for the benefit of the working class and poor.

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