Turkey’s referendum- what’s next?


The 16 April constitutional referendum in Turkey has given Recep Tayyip Erdogan the mandate to become an all-powerful executive president.

According to the preliminary results, 51.4 percent of voters had backed the changes, with 48.6% rejecting them.

Whilst the closeness of the result showed how politically and socially divided a nation Turkey has become, allegations of irregularities at polling stations cast a long shadow on this narrow victory.

Turkey’s main opposition party has denounced the result and called for a recount.

The day after the vote, The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)’s observer mission reiterated concerns and delivered a scathing assessment, throwing doubts on the reliability of the result.

Another criticism came from the Council of Europe Observer Mission. They too found the campaign and the vote falling short of genuine democratic process, with “an inadequate legal framework and last-minute changes in counting the ballots, as well as a ‘skewed pre-vote campaign’ in favour of the ‘Yes’ vote and intimidation of the opposition”.

If amending the constitution to formalize his already widely used de facto executive powers was a way of gaining legitimacy, it produced the opposite of the intended effect.

Nevertheless, the precariousness of his electoral victory did not subdue President Erdogan’s rhetoric.

Calling his flag-waving supporters to the front of his presidential palace, Mr. Erdogan made a strongly defiant, rabble-rousing speech.

Rejecting international scrutiny as the West’s “crusader mentality”, he told the OSCE “to know its place”. “We will continue down our road,” he said. “This country held the most democratic elections, that have never been seen in any other country in the West,” he added.

President Erdogan has also promised two new referenda, one to bring the death penalty back; another on whether to abandon the membership ambition for the EU.

Was anyone really naïve enough to expect a more conciliatory approach from Mr. Erdogan?

He may have lost the vote in the economic, social and cultural powerhouses like Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir.  Support for him in many traditional strongholds of the ruling Justice and Development Party may be on the wane. His new alliance with the ultranationalists may not have delivered the number of votes that he expected.

More importantly, Turkey’s economy seems increasingly fragile, with inflation and unemployment hitting new records.

Still, the tried-and-tested formula that he has thrived on, is not likely to become a tired one – not just yet.

With the state of emergency about to be extended once again, maintaining Erdogan’s grip while inflaming fear as a policy still have a long shelf life.

This post is also available in: Turkish

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