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Turkey’s Referendum: Crucial & Historic

By Prabasi Nepali
Turkey’s Referendum: Crucial & Historic
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has narrowly won last Sunday’s referendum to expand presidential powers, which could keep him in office until 2029. The “Yes” campaign won 51.37 percent and “No” 48.63 percent. Erdogan supporters claim replacing the parliamentary system (and abolishing the post of prime minister) with an executive presidency will modernize the country. Jubilant Erdogan supporters demonstrated in the big cities, whereas in Istanbul, opponents of the referendum banged pots and pans in a traditional form of protest. The opposition has not accepted the result, claiming massive irregularities over invalid votes and vowing to challenge the result in the supreme electoral board. Erdogan said that the “clear” victory needed to be respected. However, this was not the resounding victory that he wanted and doubts will remain over its legitimacy. Many had hoped that that the referendum would bring stability, but that now seems in doubt.
Erdogan said: “Today . . . Turkey has taken a historic decision . . . With the people, we have realized the most important reform in our history.”He called on everyone to respect the outcome of the vote. He also said the country could hold a referendum on reinstating the death penalty. However, this would definitely end Turkey’s negotiations for EU membership.
The next presidential and parliamentary elections will be held on November 3, 2019. The new president will have a five-year tenure, for a maximum of two terms. His powers include:
* To directly appoint top public officials, including ministers (as in the US)
* To assign one or several vice-presidents
* The post of prime minister is abolished
* To intervene in the judiciary
* Decide whether or not to impose a state of emergency
Erdogan argues the changes are necessary to tackle Turkey’s security challenges nine months after an attempted coup (by a section of the military and allegedly adherents of the cleric Fethullah Gulen, living in exile in the US), and to avoid the fragile coalition governments of the past. The new system would bring calm in a time of unrest marked by a
Kurdish insurgency, Islamist militancy and civil war in neighbouring Syria to the south, which has led to a huge refugee influx.
Critics of the changes were apprehensive that the president’s position would become too powerful, in effect promoting one-man’s rule, without the checks and balances of other presidential systems such as in the US. Many Turks are already anxious over the growing authoritarianism in their country, where tens of thousands of people have been arrested and at last 100,000 sacked or suspended from their jobs, since the coup attempt last July. The EU Commission said: “In view of the close referendum result and the far-reaching implications of the constitutional amendments, we also call on the Turkish authorities to seek the broadest possible national consensus in their implementation.” Chancellor Angela Merkel (Christian Democrats) said on Monday in a joint statement with Foreign Minister SigmarGabriel (Social Democrats), Germany “respected the right of Turks to decide on their constitution”, but added that “the close result shows the extent to which Turkish society is divided.” It expects that “the Turkish government will now seek respectful dialogue with all political and social forces in the country, after this tough election campaign.” Germany, the most powerful member of the European Union, has, therefore indicated that it is following events in Turkey very closely, and is not prepared to follow a ‘hands off’ approach vis-à-vis Turkey, i.e. state sovereignty has limits in today’s globalized world, whatever nationalists/populists may say.
North Korea: Threats & Counter Threats
US President Donald Trump ordered an attack with 59 Tomahawk missiles from ships of the 6th Fleet in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea on a Syrian airfield two weeks back. This has raised questions about US plans for containing ‘the hermit kingdom’ North Korea and its flamboyant leader Kim Jong Un. North Korea has conducted several missile and nuclear tests in defiance of UN sanctions and warnings from its immediate neighbours China, Japan and South Korea, and even the United States, which it has regularly threatened to destroy. In a clear forewarning not to test another nuclear device, a US nuclear-powered aircraft carrier is on its way toward the troubled region in North-East Asia.
Last Saturday on the 105th birth anniversary of North Korea’s founding father Kim Il Sung, long-range and submarine-based missiles were the main theme in a grand military parade intended to impress an already subdued populace, an anxious neighbourhood and a tense international community. The elder Kim’s grandson, Kim Jong Un oversaw the festivities on the occasion proclaimed bombastically as the ‘Day of the Sun’ at Pyongyang’s huge Kim Il Sung Square. Kim the grandson looking relaxed in a dark suit was laughing together with
aides and took time to greet the commander of the Strategic Forces, the military branch that oversees the missile arsenal. Goose-stepping soldiers, marching bands and thousands of people presenting a colourful panorama filled the square, next to the Taedonggang river that flows through Pyongyang, in the hazy spring sunshine. The procession was followed by tanks, multiple-launch rocket systems and other weapons. Single-engine propeller-powered planes flew in a 105 formation. The giant parade was a clear demonstration that the authoritarian regime was capable of going it alone.
Unlike in other major parades, no senior Chinese official attended. China is North Korea’s lone major ally but has recently spoken out against its missile and nuclear tests and has supported UN sanctions. It has also stopped coal imports from its neighbour, a valuable source of income. Last Friday, China again called for talks to defuse the crisis, as neighbouring states were in a state of alarm as to whether and what military action the inexperienced US president would/could undertake.
Weapons analysts said that they believed some of the missiles on display were new types of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). North Korea has claimed it has developed and could launch a missile that can strike the continental United States, but officials and experts believe it is some time away from mastering all the necessary technology. Since North Korea showcased two new kinds of ICBMs enclosed in canister launchers mounted on the back of trucks, suggesting Pyongyang was working toward a ‘new concept’ of ICBM say experts. However, the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, California also said “North Korea has a habit of showing off new concepts in parades before they ever test or launch them” and “it is early days for these missile designs.”
At the same time, ‘Pukkuksong’ (written in Korean characters on the missiles) submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) were also on display. It was the first time that North Korea has shown these missiles at a military parade, which have a range of more than 1,000 km (possibly reaching Japan). This was potentially alarming, since displaying more than one type of the missiles indicates North Korea is progressing with its plan to install missiles on submarines, which are hard to detect and, therefore, highly threatening according to the Washington-based Nonproliferation Review. It also “suggests a commitment to this programme.”
In the latest development, China has sought Russia’s help to calm down the surging tensions over Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions. It is not clear what China expects from the would-be great power as it is already bogged down in the Syrian imbroglio and is the main impediment to a political solution there (together with Iran). It also has no palpable foreign
policy interests in both the Koreas. Close cooperation between the two super powers would be a better option. Fears over the North’s rogue weapons programme have escalated recently with Trump warning the threat “will be taken care of” and Pyongyang vowing a “merciless” response to any provocation. China itself – North Korea’s sole major ally and economic lifeline – has warned that war over North Korea could break out “at any moment”. China’s foreign minister Wang YI told his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov: “China is ready to coordinate closely with Russia to help cool down as quickly as possible the situation on the peninsula and encourage the parties concerned to resume dialogue”, referring to the stalled six-party talks on the North’s nuclear programme that includes Russia, China and the United States.
Wang added further: “Preventing war and chaos on the peninsula meets common interests.” China itself has long opposed substantial military action against the North, fearing the authoritarian regime’s collapse would lead to the unification of the two Koreas and send a flood of refugees across its borders. America’s military alliance with the South would mean that the US armed forces would be just across the international border. Trump has insisted that China must exert more pressure on Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear ambitions or suffer the consequences. North Korea is already under several sets of UN sanctions over its atomic and ballistic missile programmes.
Last Sunday, North Korea again failed to launch a ballistic missile from near its submarine base in Sinpo, on its east coast . This may have been the result of US electronic sabotage, first ordered by President Barack Obama. It was in any case, a deep embarrassment for the North Korean leader. However, American security experts are non the wiser about how to respond to North Korea’s growing nuclear ambitions. According to former US ambassador Christopher Hill, Trump is trying to outwit Kim Jong Un using the same North Korean tactics. People are worried because they are not quite sure what he actually means. Moreover, it is dangerous, because “Great powers can’t really bluff”, they have to be prepared to back up their words. Thus, US Vice President Mike Pence (during his recent visit to South Korea) may warn North Korea by declaring that “all options are on the table” and that the era of US “strategic patience” was over, but Kim Jong Un was surely not much impressed by Trump’s actions in Syria ( Bashar al-Assad continues to massacre innocents with conventional bombs) and Afghanistan (a similar ‘mother of all bombs’ could not be used against North Korea because of the enormous collateral damage). The young Kim continues to test the elder Trump’s “resolve”.

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