On January 30th, 1933, renowned war hero and second president of Germany Paul Von Hindenburg appointed Adolf Hitler to become the chancellor of Germany in an attempt to stabilize the government — stable, Germany’s government did not become.
Once chancellor, Hitler did not waste any time in his quest towards absolute power in his hope to advance the Nazi ideology. After the Reichstag Fire that was initiated by the young Dutch Council Communist, Marinus van der Lubbe, Hitler urged the Reichstag to grant him emergency powers as a consequence of the attack. Hitler used this event to stress the importance of a chancellor with increased powers; claiming that only he could protect the people of Germany from these sorts of attacks and from the lingering presence of communism and the communist party — which had steadily been gaining momentum.
On March 24th of that same year he was appointed, the Enabling Act was put to a vote. The Enabling Act would serve as a temporary act to give the chancellor freedom to act without constitutional limitations or parliamentary consent. After the act passed through the Reichstag with only the Social Democrats in opposition, Hitler and his cabinet was granted rule by decree for 4 years while still having Hindenburg serve as president. The president’s powers were not infringed upon; he still remained the commander-in-chief until his death in August 1934. After the death of President Hindenburg, no new president was to be elected under Hitler’s rule as he truly cemented his reign as a dictator.
The rise of Hitler and his route to dictatorship echoes loudly in Turkey where democracy is merely hanging on by a thread after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s rule by decree following the coup attempt of July 15th, which left nearly 300 people dead. Since the state of emergency was declared in Turkey, Erdogan has arrested 32,000 people —vast majority being soldiers, security officers, judges, prosecutors, civil servants and academics— accused of having ties to Fethullah Gülen, a U.S.-based Turkish religious leader who Erdogan arraign to be behind the coup.
Furthermore, Erdogan has ordered the closure of 1,043 private schools, 1,229 foundations and associations, 35 medical institutions, 19 unions, and 15 universities with their assets being seized by the treasury. Erdogan, of course, claims that these institutions had ties to Gülen. Erdogan, determined to purge all “Gülen sympathizers,” extended the state of emergency and thereby his rule by decree in October. "Wait, be patient. Even 12 months might not be enough," Erdogan said while addressing a group of local administrators in the capital Ankara.
The people of Turkey fear for their lives and for the future of the nation’s democracy; a Turkish national who wished to remain anonymous claimed in an interview with The EC Journal that “[Erdogan] will continue to kill and imprison everyone in his way,” adding “they use these events to impose the importance of the presidency like that is the only solution to save people. His supporters are like Trump supporters, they will be okay with anything he says.”
Like Hitler did after the Reichstag Fire, Erdogan has been using current events to emphasize the heavy need of a central power who can act swift and without parliamentary consent. Erdogan’s swiftness to point fingers without proper evidence, and lack of groups taking responsibility for recent events in Turkey, has led people to believe that Erdogan may have a degree of involvements in these attacks. Following the coup attempt in July, he was very quick to castigate Gülen without any basis for his argument; the same thing happened following the bombing in the city of Kayseri where he blamed the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) for the killing of the 13 soldiers who died in the attack.
The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), which was formed by Erdogan and his political partner Abdullah Gül, has now submitted a bill to the parliament to carry out constitutional amendments which aim to abolish the prime ministry and to grant extended powers to the presidency. The bill will be put to a parliamentary hearing before being put to a referendum; however, it is almost guaranteed to pass through the parliament as the AK Party hold 317 MP seats with constitutional amendments requiring 330 MP votes. While both the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and People’s Democracy Party (HDP) opposes the bill, the far-right National Movement Party (MHP) backs the bill; the bill only needs the support of 13 out of the MHP’s 39 votes in order to be put to a referendum.
However, that’s clearly where it must stop, right? In a referendum vote, the people will be able to stop Erdogan’s quest towards a more authoritarian rule dead in its track, correct? I truly wish the answer would be yes, but that may not be the case. Erdogan has already imprisoned a large amount of his opposition and his record on ‘freedom of the press’ is not exactly stellar. Furthermore, Erdogan got 51.79% of the votes during the first round in his bid for president in 2014 when he was elected — with a very devout following.
The future of Turkey and the country’s state of democracy is yet to be seen, but the current trajectory spells trouble for the Turkish people and democracy itself. One cannot help to look towards the past for guidance in this time; the parallels between Hitler’s rise to power and Erdogan’s current path is eerily similar. Unless action is taken, this could very well be the end of democratic rule in Turkey.