Famed Turkish author Elif Şafak has said Turkey is at a crossroads and that this weekend’s referendum on a switch to an executive presidency will be a turning point for her “beautiful but troubled motherland.”
“Either Turkey will heal its badly broken democracy, or it will turn into a system that allows one man to have an almost absolute monopoly of power,” Şafak said in a BBC news video released on Wednesday.
Turkey will hold a referendum on April 16 on a constitutional reform package that will change the country’s system of governance from a parliamentary to a presidential model and will endow President Recep Tayyip Erdogan with wide-ranging powers, including the ability to dismiss ministers and Parliament, issue decrees, declare emergency rule and appoint figures to key positions, including the judiciary.
Opposition parties feel passage of the constitutional amendments will lead to one-man rule.
“Turkey has declined into authoritarianism. Today the country has become the world’s leading jailer of journalists. Every writer and academic knows that because of a book, and article or a tweet, we can be accused of betraying our nation and put on trial,” she said.
According to a January 2017 report from the Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF), 191 journalists are in jail in Turkey, 92 are wanted and 839 have been charged. The Turkish government claims that no journalists are in jail as a result of engaging in their profession, but rather due to “terrorist activities” and complicity in a failed coup in Turkey last July.
The government and President Erdogan have pinned the blame for the coup on the faith-based Gülen movement, which strongly denies the accusation. Earlier this week an indictment was submitted to the court for 30 journalists from the now-shut-down Zaman newspaper, which was affiliated with the movement, seeking three consecutive life sentences for each on charges of attempting to overthrow the constitutional order, the Turkish Parliament and the Turkish government.
Facing criticism from the international community for Turkey’s backsliding in democracy, lack of respect for the rule of law and repression of the media and academics, Şafak said that “Turkey’s political elite confuse democracy with majoritarianism. Having the popular vote doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want. Free elections are only one requirement for a proper democracy. We also need the rule of law, separation of powers, a free media and an independent academia.”
Şafak said that the situation in Turkey should be a warning to other countries where the same thing could occur, stating that rather than the traditional left versus right divide, “It is now tribalism versus humanism, wall-builders versus bridge-builders. There is a clash of values within nations.”
Expressing hope in the Turkish people, Şafak said: “Turkey’s elite may have discarded democracy, but let us not forget that there are so many open-minded individuals in Turkey who know that their country, their region and the world deserves better than this.”