Erdogan Wins the President’s Referendum

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Recep Tayyip Erdogan © Kremlin

April 16, 2017 17:15 EDT

Is Turkey headed for autocracy disguised as a presidential system of democracy, or a new era for society and politics with internal cohesion?

The results of the presidential referendum have just been declared in Turkey. As predicted by most pollsters, just over half voted “Yes.” Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir, however, voted “No.” Interestingly, Danish and German Turks voted “Yes,” while 80% of British Turks voted “No.” In Turkey, it is also possible to see that the “Yes” vote was concentrated in Anatolia, the heartland of the country, from which herald the more pious but less well-educated Turks. Europe-looking Turks in the Aegean coastal towns and Kurds concentrated in the southeast wholesale voted “No.”

Is this a de facto retrospective vote for an autocratic dictatorship disguised as a presidential system of democracy? Or is it the beginning of a new era of confident Turkish society and politics with internal cohesion and a self-assured poise looking East and West?

The reason the Anatolian Turks elected to stick with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is that so many are easily swayed by the powerful rhetoric of the man. It also reflects being dependent upon existing political, social and economic structures for net well-being for groups who were otherwise distinctively left behind by the secular republican elite until the last 15 years or so. These Turks have gained much from the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and hope to continue to do so over the next decade and a half when Erdogan remains the supreme leader of Turkey, unencumbered and unchallenged.

The fact of the matter is that judges in Egypt have more freedom than judges will now have in Turkey. The powers that Erdogan will hold give him unprecedented authority to stamp his legacy onto the history of Turkey for the foreseeable future.

This has not come about, however, through the will of the people. Half of the population, including most in three of the biggest cities in Turkey, voted “No.” It has occurred in the context of accusations of intimidation, spying and bullying, leaving “No” voters silenced and cowered. The final “Yes” vote came in a state of emergency, called after the events of the failed coup of July 2016. With this in the background, the fact of a narrow win suggests that not all remains well.

Let us not speak of the million or so people purged or directly affected by the purges initiated by Erdogan in the wake of the failed coup. Let us not speak of the hundreds of journalists and writers who face indefinite incarceration for, effectively, reporting on Turkey with an independent voice. Let us not speak either of the virtual monopoly over news media that the AKP now has. Let us not speak of the accusations of election fraud that will be made in the next few days. If only just under 50% of the population voted “No” under these circumstances, think of how many may well have voted differently had they felt the freedom to do so.

donate to nonprofit media organizationsNone of this was unexpected. Many felt that Erdogan would be successful in the end. He has what he wants. He can now narrate his own legacy and that of Turkey in his own image. He will have until 2029 to do so. If positive reforms can be introduced to rebalance the economy, flatten out social mobility and open up to the world again while sorting out all the internal issues going back to the foundation of the republic in 1923, then there is a chance of something new and great.

Neutral Turkey watchers will want the best for the country and its people. We wait in hope.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Photo Credit: Kremlin

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