On April 4 the Jackson School hosted nearly 35 students, faculty, and community members to hear foreign policy expert Dr. Amanda Sloat’s talk On the Eve of the Turkish Referendum: Implications for Domestic and Foreign Policy.
Jackson School Director Reşat Kasaba introduced the speaker and provided a brief overview on recent events in Turkey.
Dr. Sloat began her talk by introducing two main points: the referendum, for which Turkish constituents will vote on 18 amendments to the Turkish constitution on April 16, and the state of U.S.-Turkey relations. Sloat mentioned two challenging factors in U.S.- Turkey relations: U.S. military cooperation with the People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria as well as Turkey’s call for the extradition of Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish cleric and head of the Gülen Movement who resides in Pennsylvania and was allegedly involved in the Turkish coup attempt last summer.
After a brief historical introduction on the Turkish constitution, Dr. Sloat stated that the referendum includes a package of 18 proposals whose main points are shifting from a parliamentarian to a presidential system, removing the position of prime minister and consolidating power in the presidential office, and electing the president and members of parliament every five years. She noted this situation increases concerns of opponents since the proposed presidential system would eliminate democratic checks and balances.
Explaining the arguments for and against constitutional amendments
Dr. Sloat also discussed the arguments of “Yes” and “No” campaigns. While recent polls show a thin margin between the two campaigns, she noted the Yes campaigners argue that the new presidential system will boost national strength and help tackle deepening security and economic challenges Turkey faces. The “No” campaigners, however, state that the new system will only help to concentrate the power in a single hand.
In reference to the critics coming from the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe, Dr. Sloat said its report points out that the proposed amendments do not include sufficient checks and balances, the elections of vice presidents, and independence of the judiciary authority. The timing of the referendum under continuing state of emergency in Turkey that was declared on July 2016 was also mentioned.
Dr. Sloat concluded that in case the “Yes” vote would win, the power will be concentrated in the president’s hands, and if the “No” vote would win, the potential fear is that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan could continue pursuing constitutional reform and may call for an early parliamentary election in fall.
The involvement of the Gülen Movement
In the second part of the talk, the speaker discussed the recent coup attempt in Turkey. Although Turkey names the attempt as its own 9/11 and all the political parties in the Turkish parliament condemned the incident a day after it occurred, Turkey felt its reaction was not shared by the United States or Europe.
Dr. Sloat discussed the complexities of the Gülen Movement. She described how the leader of the movement, Fethullah Gülen, and President Erdoğan had partnered in the last decade. She said the Gülen Movement was also very active in American politics from launching initiatives on interfaith dialogue to bringing congressional staff to Turkey. However, Turkey does not understand why the United States does not deport Gülen. The United States says that they have legal processes, and asks Turkey to provide evidence in order to deport Gülen.
Turkey and Syria
In the last part of the talk on People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Syria, Dr. Sloat pointed out that Syria will remain a contested issue between Turkey and the United States since it is hard for Turkey to end up with a satisfactory solution for the United States.
Dr. Sloat explained that Turks believe the YPG equals to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which has been fighting with the Turkish army more than 30 years, but the United States accepts YPG as an ally in its fight against ISIS in Syria. She said President Erdoğan has been tolerating U.S. support towards YPG for the last couple of years but he has some reservations – the United States should not arm the YPG in Northern Syria and the YPG should not move to the west of the Euphrates River. She said Turkey has some valid national security concerns.
Questions included the potential reaction of the Trump administration to the outcome of the Turkish referendum.
Dr. Sloat concluded that Turkey is a complicated country and viewed differently by different actors. When you look at Turkey from Europe, you may think it has authoritarian tendencies, but when you look at it from the Middle East, you may think there has been a democracy that is flawed but more or less working.
About the Speaker: Dr. Amanda Sloat is a Fellow at the Ash Center of the Harvard Kennedy School. She served in the Obama Administration, including at the State Department as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Southern Europe and Eastern Mediterranean Affairs. She previously worked at the White House, Congress and National Democratic Institute. In addition to holding visiting fellowships in the U.S. and abroad, she has served as a special advisor to the Scottish Parliament, Northern Ireland Assembly, and European Commission. Dr. Sloat holds a Ph.D. from the University of Edinburgh. She has published a book Scotland in Europe: A Study of Multi-Level Governance and numerous articles on European politics.
The event was sponsored by The Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies and the Center for Global Studies