Yavuz Baydar
Jul 09 2018

'Ermächtigungsgesetz' 1933 and Turkey’s Decree 477

With the passage of Decree 477 last week, all governing powers in Turkey were transferred to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Decree 477 registers the transfer of absolute power to a one-man regime.

Labelling this regime accurately is straightforward. There are limitless decrees and a nearly useless parliament. It is clear this regime deserves a label that goes far beyond monikers such as illiberal democracy, electoral autocracy, or despotism. You, the readers, can make the final call, but it seems that Kurdish activists are right to call it “fascism”.

This is the message conveyed in the language of Decree 477, which gives the impression of having been prepared before the June 24 parliamentary and presidential elections won by Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP).

There is talk of lifting the state of emergency. This comes as no surprise, because it no longer serves a purpose. In the aftermath of the bloody coup attempt of July 2016, the state of emergency was a building block in the construction of the new regime.

Successive decrees laid the foundations of the new order, and the stipulations of the state of emergency were incorporated into the new structure the AKP established using vestiges of the old state. Even if the state of emergency were lifted, it would make no difference to the new regime. Devlet Bahçeli, the leader of the AKP”s far-right junior coalition partner, the Nationalist Action Party (MHP), has made it clear there is no other way. Along with Erdoğan, he seems determined to take Turkey down a path from which there is no return.

As an almost unbeatable political union, the People’s Alliance—the AKP-MHP election coalition, which Erdoğan insists will remain unified after the election—has taken on an historic mission. It is a mission that embodies the “Turkish-Islamic synthesis”, a doctrine propagated by the country’s military rulers after the 1980 coup to undermine the left.

Parliament is now dominated by the People’s Alliance, but it is safe to assume that Turkey will be ruled by decrees from Erdoğan’s palace.

This will be the new normal of this era.

According to the road map that Erdoğan and Bahçeli agreed, another decree will be issued to coincide with the presidential swearing in ceremony.

The new executive order will determine the administrative parameters for an indefinite period, and will incorporate state of emergency regulations into the regular legal apparatus. Whether you want to call it a security state or a police state, this will likely be the administrative system in Turkey until perhaps 2023.

The executive orders to come will not follow the norms of the European Court of Human Rights. As bridges with the European Union are being burned, Turkey will enter a Cold War with the Council of Europe. The governing coalition is carving out a new place for Turkey.

In this environment, it becomes meaningless to assume that legislation has a function in Turkey or that parliament’s continued existence is cause for hope.

The shadow of Decree 477 will remain for a long time.

So what is this Ermächtigungsgesetz I referenced in the headline?

Ermächtigungsgesetz is how Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime gained legitimacy on paper, and how the real nightmare of his regime began.


It is also known as the Enabling Act.

The date was March 23, 1933.

A law passed in the aftermath of the Reichstag fire did away with basic rights and granted significant authority to the Nazis, and within a month, the Nazis had passed The Enabling Act and signed into the law the same day. This law, valid for four years, granted all government powers to Hitler, gave his cabinet the right to pass decrees, took parliament out of the equation and turned it into a stage for Hitler’s speeches.

Ermächtigungsgesetz was the beginning of the Nazi dictatorship.

Everyone in Germany knows this word. It has been carved into their brains. It denotes a very dark time.

Now after the elections, I see much of the analysis being produced, especially by the left, is misleading and weak.

These realities are being ignored:

  • Turkey’s left is undecided whether it should prioritise fighting for democracy or fighting the government. It generally tends towards the latter, and underestimates the importance of the former as a necessary first step.

  • People deny the fact that as long as the left continues thinking within the parameters of a 200-year-old cliché in a society that is overwhelmingly dominated by conservative, religious, and hard-nationalist thinking, the left will always remain a downtrodden yet arrogant minority.

  • A strategic partnership with the Kurds, who possess the most durable political memory and analytic mentality in Turkey, has still not been incorporated into a common plan of action.

  • After the tragicomedy that followed the recent elections, people seem to not realise that the return to democratisation is not possible without breaking the hegemony enjoyed by the political establishment that controls the CHP.

  • Identity politics and political tribalism are seen as positive attributes, not impediments.

  • There is wishful thinking that following the June elections, the tattered opposition still has meaningful tools at its disposal. This façade appears in the left in the form of daydreaming about next year’s local elections.

  • The last point is that the media, which is an integral part of public debate, is almost entirely absent from the stage. It is impossible for alternative democratic movements to take root and grow in a regime that denies free and independent space for the media.

For those who disagree with these findings, I advise researching Germany in the 1930s. It is especially important to study the shattered, meagre opposition and the destruction of the left in the aftermath of the Reichstag fire.

The Kurds call it fascism. They have good reason. History consists of relapses.

As George Santayana said, “those who cannot remember the past are bound to repeat it.”

The truth hurts. Rather than fearing the truth, we must face and accept it. This is the point at which strategic intelligence begins to take shape.  

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.