AKP’s educated urban constituency to determine Turkey’s fate

AKP’s educated urban constituency to determine Turkey’s fate

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) received 49.50 percent of the votes in the Nov. 1, 2016, general elections, while the opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) received 11.90 percent.

Although MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli committed his party to approve the constitutional amendments that will change Turkey’s parliamentary system into a presidential one, AKP election strategists knew from the start that they could not count on MHP’s constituency. More than half of the MHP’s constituency is expected to vote “no.”

They assumed that, of the 49.50 percent of the votes AKP received in the last elections; 40 percent would remain loyal and vote “yes.” It is the remaining 10 percent who have displayed indecisiveness that became the focus of the AKP’s campaign strategists. That 10 percent’s profile is defined as urban and educated voters, according to one AKP strategist. 

The findings of other public opinion companies have all along underlined the fact that it will be the undecided within the loyal AKP constituency, as well as the floating voters, whom in the last years have been lured by the AKP, that will determine the outcome of the referendum. This group is more or less satisfied in general with the performance of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the party but questions the necessity for a system change. They are also sceptic about the centralization of power in one hand and question how the system will work after Erdoğan. 

While the number of the undecided have been on the decline, many expect a tight race, which will land us the day after on a “damned if I do, damned if I don’t” kind of a situation. 

If the outcome is a “yes” with a small margin, Erdoğan and the AKP will go ahead as planned to change Turkey’s administrative system into a presidential one. Yet, as a change of this size would -from a moral point of view - have required the endorsement of a large majority of the society, the president and his aides will not be able to take a deep breath and continue to govern the country in full confidence. This lack of confidence might force Erdoğan to keep ruling with an iron fist, which could deprive society of the calm, stable and free atmosphere that it has long lacked.
The job of those longing and working for democratic reforms will become ever more difficult.

If the outcome is a “no” with a slight margin, the work of those longing and working for democratic reforms will become harder again. Erdoğan will not easily give up on his aspirations for a presidential system and will look for opportunities to get back at those who prevented him from fulfilling his dreams. 
Demoralized with setbacks for the past four to five years, Turkey’s democrats, with a refreshed self-confidence, might opt to display a more assertive opposition. That in turn could meet resistance from the government, keeping the tension high among the society.

Therefore, whatever the result of the referendum is, Turkey’s democratic experience, which has come a long way until the mid-2000s but suffered too many setbacks lately, will enter a new period of challenges.