The referendum is a victory for Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan and his Islamist AKP Party, changing the country's constitution from a parliamentary system to a presidential one.
The constitutional change means the the winner of the 2019 presidential election, likely to be Erdogan himself, will assume a position of far greater authority. The referendum does away with the position of prime minister, shifting all executive power to the office of president. It also gives the president greater power to issue decrees and appoint judges and officials. This change gives the president disciplinary authority over Turkey's 3.5 million civil servants as well.
The referendum limits the president to two five-year terms, leaving open the option of a third term if Parliament allows.
Practically, these changes mean Erdogan and his AKP Party will likely retain power until 2029. Erdogan has been the most important political figure in Turkey since leading his party to three general election victories beginning in 2002. The former prime minister was elected president in 2014 and has been consolidating his power and eliminating political opponents since a coup attempt against him in June 2016.
The vote split largely along religious and ethnic lines, with ethnic Turks largely voting in favor of the referendum, and Greek, Armenian and Kurdish minorities in the country voting against.
With the victory, Erdogan has transformed himself into one of the major Sunni Islamist leaders in the region, a position rivaled only by the Saudi monarchy. Erdogan is one of the biggest advocates for the overthrow of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The political vacuum resulting from Assad's overthrow would shift power away from the other regional power, Shia Iran, which currently exerts tremendous influence in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.
Christians have much to fear from Erdogan's usurpation of power. Christian persecution has increased in the country with Erdogan largely turning a blind eye to terrorism committed against churches. He has hinted at his approval of turning the Hagia Sofia into a mosque and in fact prayed Muslims prayers there on Good Friday. He has denied the genocide of Armenian Christians committed by the Turks during World War I.
At one point, Turkey was one of the most secular countries in the Middle East, a legacy of the military regime put in place by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. The Turks were a critical ally of the United States and the capitalist West during the Cold War, when the secularist, military government served as a frontline defense against Soviet aggression. Turkey was one of the most important members of NATO, the multi-country military alliance meant to combat Soviet aggression during the Cold War that conducted no military operations until after the collapse of the Soviet bloc.
Kemalist military rule continued throughout the Cold War until the rise of Erdogan and his AKP Party, which has rolled back the authority of the military and instituted a regime more in line with Sharia or Islamic law. Sunday's victory means Erdogan will continue to flout his authority over Western leaders.
In November, Erdogan threatened to unleash swarms of refugees if the European Union (EU) slowed Turkish accession into the EU. And in March, Turkish officials instigated violent protests through the Netherlands after the Dutch prime minister barred Turkish campaigning in the country, all while Erdogan mocked European leaders for their inability to counter Turkish demographic replacement.
On Monday, President Trump called Erdogan to congratulate him on the referendum victory. Trump previously called Erdogan in February and affirmed Turkey as a strong NATO ally.
Trump was a critic of NATO during the campaign, calling into question the usefulness and cost-effectiveness of an organization meant to combat Communism. In his presidency, Trump has doubled down on NATO, now pushing for the inclusion of Montenegro into the anti-Russian alliance.
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