Turkey: Hitler comment by Erdogan was distorted

3 January 2016
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Mr. Erdogan, who is pushing to imbue the largely ceremonial presidency with sweeping executive powers, told reporters late Thursday that “there are already examples in the world.”

“You can see it when you look at Hitler’s Germany,” he said.

Mr. Erdogan did not elaborate, but his comparison to Hitler drew immediate criticism because of what many view as his increasing authoritarianism. His comment also raised the issue of how the leader of one of the world’s most influential countries, an American ally and member of NATO, would mention Hitler in the context of his own tenure.

Mr. Erdogan has said he envisions a presidency with powers even greater than that of the American president. On Friday, the office of the presidency said that “Erdogan’s ‘Hitler’s Germany metaphor’ has been distorted by media outlets and has been used in the opposite sense.” It said Mr. Erdogan had used the example to demonstrate that an executive presidency does not depend on a federal system of government.

“If the system is abused, it may lead to bad management resulting in disasters as in Hitler’s Germany,” the statement said. “The important thing is to pursue fair management that serves the nation.”

Mr. Erdogan became Turkey’s first popularly elected president in August 2014, having dominated Turkish politics for more than a decade as prime minister. Since assuming the new post, he has aggressively campaigned to rewrite the Turkish Constitution and establish an executive system of government.

His consolidation of power has had a potent effect on Turkey. Critics say Mr. Erdogan’s comments denigrating opponents as terrorists or traitors have helped polarise the country. A government crackdown on dissent — including a campaign of intimidation against the opposition news media, with a mob of his supporters attacking newspaper offices before the November election — has raised concerns domestically and abroad about Turkey’s commitment to democracy.

To change the Constitution, Mr. Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, which regained its parliamentary majority in November, needs support from opposition parties.

Last week, Turkey’s main opposition party said it would back some changes to an outdated Constitution, which was drawn up by the military after a 1980 coup, but it does not support an all-powerful presidential system envisioned by Mr. Erdogan.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the main opposition party, that a presidential system would not lead to a dictatorship.

“What is right for Turkey is to adopt the presidential system in line with the democratic spirit,” he said in a television interview this week. “This system will not evolve into dictatorship, but if we do not have this spirit, even the parliamentary system can turn into this dictatorship.”

In Turkey, reaction to Mr. Erdogan’s remarks was strong on social media.

Comparing the president and Hitler, one person wrote on Twitter, “The difference is that Hitler was a bit shorter.” The post later appeared to have been deleted. People also shared an animated image of Mr. Erdogan’s face changing to Hitler’s.

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