Turkey Enters Uncharted Waters
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 17th April, 2017
With over 99% of votes in Turkey’s constitutional referendum now counted, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is celebrating what he has described as his “clear win” — a mandate to change the nature of the presidency from a theoretically largely ceremonial role to an executive one. In fact, since assuming the presidency following a decade in power as Prime Minister, Mr Erdogan has already been acting as Turkey’s kingpin. The difference now is that he will be able do so constitutionally. But just how clear is his victory? On the basis of almost complete official figures, yesterday’s referendum vote gave 51.36% for “Yes” and 48.64% for “No”, which is an even narrower margin than the “Leave” vote’s win in Britain’s EU Referendum in June last year (which Prime Minister Theresa May nonetheless claims gives her to press ahead with her “red, white and blue” hard Brexit). But there is an important difference between the two referenda outcomes: in the UK, Remainers accepted the result as valid, even if many are still resisting its consequences, whereas in Turkey already the result is being contested. There have been accusations of irregularities, one of which was the decision by the electoral authorities to allow ballot papers lacking the official stamp to be counted. Some people have claimed they were intimidated. But most seriously, media that would have supported a “no” vote was largely muzzled. Over 10,000 people have been taken into custody since last year’s failed coup in Turkey, among them many journalists, broadcasters and media company executives. At least 100,000 people have been fired from their jobs, because of alleged links to Fethullah Gulen’s movement which Mr Erdogan asserted was behind the coup (which US-based Mr Gulen strongly denies). Turkey’s opposition parties will doubtless now protest about the growing power of Turkey’s “New Sultan”, as Mr Erdogan has been dubbed by his critics, though they may find it difficult to make their voices heard over the celebratory cheers of the ruling AKP. However, the President cannot be complacent. The constitutional referendum has highlighted just how far the country is split down the middle, even if his side has a slight upper hand. Predictably, the predominantly Kurdish areas of south-eastern Turkey voted heavily “No”, but so too did the three main cities, Ankara, Istanbul and Izmir, while the more conservative rural areas of Anatolia largely voted “Yes”. Again echoes of Britain’s Brexit vote! And just as in Britain the losing side has organised marches and kept up a storm of critical comment on twitter and other social media, so we can expect demonstrations in Turkey, which may not be as peacefully handled as their British counterparts.