Erdogan, Flush With Victory, Seizes New Powers in Turkey
ISTANBUL — Even before President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey was inaugurated last week, he began elbowing his way into the front ranks of the globe’s strongmen.
Hours before taking the oath of office — after 15 years already in power — Erdogan published a 143-page decree changing the way almost every government department and public body in the country operates.
In the days since, he has issued several equally lengthy decrees and presidential decisions, centralizing power and giving him the ability to exert control in nearly all areas of life with almost unchecked authority.
At a moment when democratic systems around the world are under increasing pressure, Erdogan, who was reelected in June, is among those leaders, including Vladimir Putin of Russia and Viktor Orban of Hungary, who are using the levers of democracy to vastly expand their authority.
Among the changes Erdogan has put in place under the new presidential system:
■ The prime minister’s office has been abolished;
■ The military has been brought under firmer civilian control;
■ The president will draft the budget, choose judges, and many top officials;
■ The president can dismiss Parliament and call new elections at will;
■ The president appoints the head of the National Intelligence Agency, the Religious Affairs Directorate, and the Central Bank, as well as ambassadors, governors and university rectors, among other top bureaucrats;
■ Virtually none of the president’s appointments require a confirmation process.
None of the amendments Erdogan decreed was subject to public debate before becoming law. The vast accumulation of power fulfills Turkey’s shift from a parliamentary system to the presidential one, a move that was narrowly approved by voters in a referendum last year.
The voluminous decrees, analysts say, promise months of administrative upheaval as agencies are abolished and government employees reassigned.
Critics have voiced concern at the lack of checks on the president’s increased powers.
“The state is being reorganized around Tayyip Erdogan,” columnist Asli Aydintasbas wrote in the secular opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet last week.
Many of the changes, analysts point out, merely formalize what was already the case: It is Erdogan who makes the decisions. But the consolidation of his power is far-reaching.
Erdogan has also amended the counterterrorism law in expectation of lifting the state of emergency, which expires Thursday and was put in place two years ago after a failed military coup against him.
The new measures bring the powerful Turkish military firmly under civilian control — a step that the president says is in line with changes required under the European Union’s accession process. The bloc has dangled admission before Turkey for years.
But Erdogan and his fellow Islamists have long called for a presidential system and for greater civilian control over the military. Turkey’s recent history has been filled with military coups, and the Islamists chafed under military rule.
Erdogan has placed the chief of staff of the armed forces under control of the Defense Ministry, and the Supreme Military Council, which decides senior appointments in the armed forces, has been reconfigured to include more civilian ministers than military commanders.
Erdogan appointed a loyalist, the former chief of staff, General Hulusi Akar, as his first defense minister under the new system. Akar opposed the 2016 coup — he was taken prisoner on the night of the failed coup by rogue officers — and has overseen a comprehensive purge of the armed forces in the two years since.
“It seems Erdogan has planned the transition to be as smooth as possible by naming Akar, Turkey’s top soldier, as the defense minister,” columnist Murat Yetkin wrote in The Hurriyet Daily News.
Erdogan outlined his own powers in one new decree after his inauguration. He will appoint the chief of staff of the armed forces — along with the commanders of the land, air and naval forces and the deputy chief of staff — by presidential decision, which needs no confirmation process. The president will also make promotions in the upper ranks of the security forces from colonel upward.