Turkey issued a statement on Friday saying that comments by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan — in which he cited Adolf Hitler in response to a question about whether a strong presidency was possible in Turkey — had been misinterpreted.
Erdogan, who is pushing to imbue the largely ceremonial presidency with sweeping executive powers, told reporters late on Thursday that “there are already examples in the world.”
“You can see it when you look at Hitler’s Germany,” he said.
Erdogan did not elaborate, but his comparison with 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, a US ally and member of NATO, would mention Hitler in the context of his own tenure.
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 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,” the statement added.
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 Erdogan’s comments denigrating opponents as terrorists or traitors has helped polarize the country.
A government crackdown on dissent — including a growing campaign of intimidation against the opposition news media, with a mob of his supporters last year attacking newspaper offices before a November election — has raised concerns domestically and abroad about Turkey’s commitment to democracy.
To change the constitution, Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, which regained its parliamentary majority in November, needs support from opposition parties.
Turkey’s main opposition party last week said it would back some changes to an outdated constitution, which was drawn up by the military after a 1980 coup, but it does not support an all-powerful presidential system envisioned by Erdogan.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of Turkey’s 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 TV 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 Erdogan’s remarks was strong on social media.
Comparing the president with 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 Erdogan’s face changing to Hitler’s.
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