Nothing has changed...
The much discussed referendum has become history. As expected, the “yes” vote aimed at ushering Turkey into a super-presidential system with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan emerged victorious by a razor-thin majority.
Naturally, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) objected to the vote count in various locales. As this article was filed, the “yes” vote was at 51.3 percent and coming down, while the “no” was at 48.7 percent and increasing. An interesting situation was that for the first time in 15 years, in all three major cities of the country, opponents of Erdoğan were in the lead.
As they went to the polls on Sunday, the question in the hearts and minds of millions of Turks was whether the secular Turkish Republic had become history.
Has a process that started in 2002 with fears about the Justice and Development Party (AKP) now reached the state of burying the secularist, parliamentary democracy of Kemalist Turkey to be replaced with the much speculated Second Republic?
Regardless of the ultimate result of the vote, it could be said in full earnest that nothing will change in the country. The super-presidential aspirations of Erdoğan was not set to die out with a minimal loss while the supporters of the “no” side were not about to give up their commitment to parliamentary secular democracy with a narrow loss either.
Thus, if the result is indeed a razor-thin victory for the super-presidential aspirations, Turkey will continue suffering from tension and polarization unless Erdoğan realizes that presidential governance cannot be sustainable with such a strong opposition.
The official results were to be announced soon after the objections of the CHP were all answered. Of course allegations of irregularity are rampant. Even if the CHP’s objections have all been brushed aside and the “no” vote remains below the “yes” vote, can anyone claim a clear victory with half of the nation in opposition and the other half in support? On the contrary, the nation’s message was loud and clear. Even if most of the powers of the super president will have to wait for the election of the new president and the new parliament in 2019, the nation said “no” to the super-presidential aspirations of the tall, bold, bald and ever-angry man and demonstrated its displeasure with the president exercising powers he was not given by the law, as if he was an absolute ruler – voting for it only in the interests of stability. That is why the vote was so close; otherwise, the “no” vote would have been far higher.
Yet, will Erdoğan heed the message from the nation? The past performance of the president clearly demonstrated that he did not need a legal framework to exercise the powers of government. Ever since becoming president, has he not openly acted as the boss of the prime ministers of the country?
Or, together with the government, has he not dictated to the judges and prosecutors through the domesticated Judges and Prosecutors High Board (HSYK)? Furthermore, has he not legislated things in whatever way he pleases with an army of parliamentarians in parliament – and even more so after the declaration of the state of emergency, allowing him to rule by decree?
Thus, it could be argued that whichever way the referendum finally goes, Erdoğan will most likely not bother with the result of the referendum but insist on behaving like a super president.
The results also highlighted a perennial problem in the country: the absence of a national interest, awareness or commitment to democratic governance. Even though Turkish politicians often complain that people love talking about national interests, values, norms and high ideals, the reality is rather sad. People have a very shallow memory and, rather than focusing on high ideals or national interests, they are often more bothered with their basic needs, be it accommodation, money in their pockets, job for themselves or for their kids and of course ways and means of attracting the attention of the other sex.
Thus, politicians often lure the masses utilizing the fundamental deficiencies of the illiterate or semi-illiterate groups of people. Yet, if modern Turkey has managed to resist all challenges since its inception, it will definitely manage to resist existential threats today as well. Still, tomorrow, a rehashed and accelerated campaign to transform modern Turkey into a Middle Eastern one- man rule administration, based on this campaign’s populist and Islamist themes, will continue haunting the country.