Sunday, September 19, 2010

Is Turkey becoming more democratic, or less so?

Washington Post
September 19, 2010

Are the constitutional amendments approved by a referendum in Turkey last Sunday "a turning point" for Turkish democracy, as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared? Are they "another important step by Turkey on the road towards Europe," as the German foreign minister put it? Or do they open the way to a "civilian dictatorship" by Mr. Erdogan and his Islamist Justice and Development Party, as the leader of the opposition is warning? Perhaps the most salient -- and worrisome -- characteristic of Mr. Erdogan's government after nearly eight years in office is that the answer is not obvious.

After a polarizing campaign that became more a referendum on his government than on the 26 proposed constitutional reforms, Mr. Erdogan was rewarded with a decisive victory: 58 percent of voters approved the changes in a charter that had been imposed by the military after a 1980 coup. Many of the changes are indisputably liberal and will strengthen democracy in a Muslim country that is a NATO member and has aspired to join the European Union. For example, military officers will be subject to civilian trials; the rights of women, the elderly, handicapped people and children will be enhanced; restrictions on unions will be lifted; and individuals will have greater privacy rights and the ability to appeal to the Constitutional Court.