Turkish referendum: Powerful Erdoğan, PowerlessPublic

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In yesterday’s Turkish referendum to replace the current parliamentary system with a strong executive presidency, unofficial results show that 51.3% of the electorate voted in favour of the proposed constitutional changes while 48.7% voted against. The opposition parties are likely to contest this: the supreme election board unexpectedly decided to accept ballots without the official seals, after the voting process was over.

Nevertheless, the scene is set for Turkey’s new political constitution to be adopted to coincide with the November 2019 elections, unless early elections are held before then.

President Erdoğan has already played a de facto executive role since he was elected by a popular vote in 2014. With the referendum result, this de facto executive authority becomes de jure. His expanded powers will include the ability to issue executive orders, control the budget and appoint vice presidents, ministers, and high-level state officials. Erdoğan will now be able to rule until 2029 if he can win the next two presidential elections.

Despite the fact that Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development party (AKP), along with their major ally Nationalist Action party (MHP), declared victory, the percentage of yes voters (51.3%) was much lower than the two parties’ combined share of the vote (62%) in the last general election in November 2015. This suggests that the slim margin of victory for the yes camp is far from being a decisive win. Crucially, the major industrial, cosmopolitan cities such as Istanbul, Ankara, İzmir and Antalya voted no. In southeast Turkey, most Kurdish voters voted no too, likely in response to resurgent violence between the Kurdistan Workers’ party and the Turkish military since the summer of 2015, when the peace process ended.

In contrast, conservative and nationalist Anatolian voters supported yes. Many of them remain fiercely loyal to the personality cult Erdoğan has constructed around his macho leadership. These voters tend to be highly sceptical of the western nations and are nostalgic for the Ottoman imperial past.

The two camps looked at the constitution through different lenses. For yes supporters, the failures of past sclerotic coalition governments and threats against national security were at the forefront. The no camp, on the other hand, were concerned with the separation of powers, checks and balances, and threats to democracy. What this stiff competition and close result show is that a significant portion of Turkish society is seriously concerned about the state and future of Turkish democracy. Socio-economic stability, peace and the normalisation of Turkish politics cannot be achieved unless these concerns are addressed by President Erdoğan.

Questions over the fair and free nature of this referendum have been raised. The campaign was conducted under the state of emergency declared after the attempted military coup last July. Since then, many dissident academics, journalists, civil servants and elected politicians, such as the pro-Kurdish leader, Selahattin Demirtaş, have been jailed and silenced.

One of Erdoğan’s first moves after the result will be to officially rejoin his Justice and Development party, since the constitutional change abolishes the non-party-political nature of the presidency. At the end of the day, the AKP does not mean much to its base without Erdoğan at its helm.

 

(The Guardian )

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