President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was right about one thing when he publicly accepted and welcomed the referendum result that will endow him with semi-dictatorial powers: this is indeed a historic moment for Turkey. After decades of impressive economic and social progress, years when civil rights, relations with the European Union and progressive values were becoming more firmly established, the arrival of Mr Erdogan on the political scene marked a sure, if gradual move, to a more nationalistic and authoritarian regime. Paradoxically, the defeat of the military coup last year was also a defeat for the secular tradition in Turkey, and the slim and contested Yes result in this referendum the confirmation that Mr Erdogan seeks to establish personal rule stretching to the end of the 2020s. Turkey has become an elective dictatorship. He will have the same sort of powers of an executive presidency as the French and American systems allow, but nowhere near the same checks and balances from an independent legislature, judiciary, vibrant civic society or a free media. Turkey has receded from the democratic world.
That is itself a tragedy for the Turkish people. It might be mitigated if there were much confidence that the President was the right strongman to stabilise his country at home and abroad. Of course he is no such thing. He will be emboldened to further intimidate the courts, the press and rival parties, including by using the state security apparatus against them, but he will not be able crush them or suppress the half of the population who oppose him. His rule is rightly seen as illegitimate.
So far as the threat from Isis is concerned, the long experience of the Erdogan approach of appeasement and the attempt to quietly use Isis to defeat Kurdish separatists has been demonstrably disastrous. Turkey's security has never been weaker in its near century of history as a modernising secular republic. Though Isis is losing ground in Syria and Iraq, where the Islamists go next is unpredictable, though we already can see that Turkey is a terrorist target for them.
Not least as a Nato ally, Turkey's stability is a cause for concern for the West. As what is still a comparative beacon of democratic values in that part of the world it remains a priceless asset, if devalued. The nation was taken for granted and treated poorly by its neighbours in the European Union for many years. Now Turkey, like Russia, is sliding away from the West and towards a form of nihilism. From China to Hungary, from Trump's America to Modi's India, a nationalistic authoritarianism, impatient with democratic norms and intolerant of minorities and criticism, is becoming the political norm, and the trend is far from over.Reuse content