TIME editor Rana Foroohar examines the political and economic climate that gave Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan a third term as prime minister. Known as both a populist and a firm economic leader, Erdogan has achieved nearly unprecedented success in Turkey’s complex political environment. But although he has thus far handled an expanding economy and a tumultuous Arab world reasonably well, Erdogan will face even more difficult challenges as he tries to ride prosperity to an elevated global position. The real question, though, is whether or not Erdogan will lead Turkey to flourish as a liberal democracy with free speech policies, or if he will choose to consolidate his power and alter Turkey’s secular constitution to a more conservative Islamist document. Foroohar writes:
The answer will have ramifications both at home and abroad. For years, the AKP has been trying to rewrite Turkey’s constitution to limit the power of the military, which since Ataturk’s day has been the enforcer of the secular order, occasionally by force. The party would like to loosen rules regarding things like the wearing of headscarves, which are banned in state-owned spaces such as universities, courtrooms and political institutions. Erdogan would also like to shift the country from its parliamentary system to a presidential one, which would allow him to further consolidate power. But while the AKP did well in the parliamentary elections, it didn’t win enough seats to rewrite the constitution without consultation. The election “gives Erdogan the message that he needs to work together with opposition parties to do this, rather than trying to do it on his own based on his own principles, which wouldn’t be healthy,” says Sahin Alpay, a political professor at Bahcesehir University in Istanbul.
The constitution has been repeatedly tweaked, most recently last year, but there’s widespread agreement that it needs updating. The document does more to protect the state than the nation’s citizens and is reflective of the insecure Turkey of a previous era that desperately wanted to move into the modern (read: Western) world. The headscarf ban that is supposed to be a reflection of the secular state, for example, is now considered by many a violation of civil liberties. Updating the constitution would allow more freedom of speech and protect the rights of minorities like the Kurds, 14 million strong, who live in the southeastern part of the country. The current constitution allows the government to prevent Kurds from speaking their language and gathering for cultural events.
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