It has not been entirely smooth sailing for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s proposed constitutional changes to expand the powers of the presidency. Although Turkish lawmakers have approved the 18-article package—after a contentious parliamentary debate involving fist fights and threats of early elections—public opinion seems to be shifting away from Erdogan ahead of a referendum planned for April.
But for better or worse, Erdogan has one loud and enthusiastic backer in his corner: Ottoman princess Nilhan Osmanoglu. Al-Monitor:
Osmanoglu, who claims to be a direct descendent of Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamid II, declared that she would “naturally” vote yes in a planned referendum on Erdogan’s long coveted superpresidency.
In an impassioned speech during a conference devoted to her forebears, Osmanoglu railed against what she called the injustices inflicted by Turkey’s current parliamentary system. It was, she asserted, to blame for the execution of former Prime Minister Adnan Menderes and the ill-treatment of female students who wear the Islamic-style headscarf that was once banned on university campuses. “We’ve had enough of the parliamentary system,” the sultana huffed. Her comments unleashed a furor.
Ironically, the princess’s endorsement could actually be costing Erdogan support, fueling fears that he wants an expanded presidency to install himself as a neo-Ottoman sultan. Erdogan’s Ottoman pretensions are well-known, evident in his love for Ottoman ceremonial rituals, his ostentatious presidential palace, and his expansive view of Turkey’s foreign policy role in the former empire’s territory.
For many opponents of Erdogan, though, his Ottoman proclivities suggest not mere nostalgia but a dangerous inclination toward authoritarianism and revanchism. Such critics see Erdogan—and the presidential system he is now pushing—as an existential threat to the modern republican Turkey founded by Ataturk. For that reason, the controversy over Erdogan’s presidential system plays into long-running and unsettled debates about Turkey’s historical legacy and Turkish identity. Those divides could very well intensify as the conversation over Erdogan’s constitutional reforms shifts from the parliament to the public.