Politico reports: If you’ve been listening to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan this past month, you’d be forgiven for thinking the Turkish president was intent on redrawing his country’s borders.
In a series of provocative speeches, he has lamented the loss of Ottoman territories, complained that Turkey “gave away” islands to Greece, and invoked a century-old plan that included the Iraqi cities of Mosul and Kirkuk in Turkey’s boundaries.
“We did not accept the borders of our country voluntarily,” Erdoğan said in one of his speeches. Yet while he has used this expansionist rhetoric to argue that Turkey has a say in the ongoing battle for Mosul, his target audience are not Greek or Iraqi officials. Rather, it’s intended for potential voters back home — election talk ahead of a looming referendum on the nature of his presidency.
Erdoğan’s long-standing ambition to replace Turkey’s parliamentary system with an executive presidency — a constitutional change that would grant him significantly greater powers — is inching closer to becoming reality. This month, ministers and officials began floating a timeline, suggesting that a parliamentary vote could be held early next year with a subsequent referendum in April.
After this summer’s attempted coup, Erdoğan’s popularity has soared; a popular vote may well succeed. Yet it remains uncertain whether his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) will be able to shore up enough support from other parties to reach the necessary parliamentary majority to call a referendum.
Politicians across the otherwise deeply divided opposition parties object that the introduction of a presidential system would allow the increasingly authoritarian Erdoğan to rule Turkey unchecked.
The president’s best bet is the nationalist opposition: Their leader, Devlet Bahceli, signaled he would not challenge a plebiscite in recent weeks. If his parliamentary group follows suit, the AKP could take their proposal to a referendum.
Hence the belligerent rhetoric. The talk of Turkey’s rights regarding parts of Iraq and the Aegean islands plays well with the nationalists, who often bemoan the territorial concessions made in the 1920s by the crumbling Ottoman Empire.
“Erdoğan is a savvy politician who understands very well the sort of emotional chords of the Turkish public,” said Sinan Ülgen, a former Turkish diplomat and visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe. “This is part of an overall strategy to shore up national support that started in the wake of the elections last June.” [Continue reading…]