An exhausting victory for Erdoğan

An exhausting victory for Erdoğan

President Tayyip Erdoğan announced his narrow win for the constitutional shift from a parliamentary to an executive system as a result of the April 16 referendum, representing a radical change in Turkey’s administrative regime.

When Erdoğan declared the win, the semi-official Anadolu Agency was showing the results as 51.4 percent “Yes” and 48.6 percent “No,” with turnout of over 86 percent of more than 55 million voters. 

Erdoğan said the results heralded a “new era” in Turkey, with the harmonization of laws due to be completed by November 2019, calling on the country’s “allies and friends” to acknowledge and respect the will of the Turkish voters.

Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım also delivered a speech toward the end of the vote count and pledged that his Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government would respect both “Yes” and “No” votes. The system change will abolish the Prime Ministry and open the path for the president to return to the AK Parti to take the party chair back from Yıldırım.

The results will be finalized by the Supreme Election Board (YSK), but the YSK put itself in the middle of a deep controversy by making a contentious announcement in the early stages of the beginning of the vote count. It stated that ballot papers without an authenticating stamp could be counted as a valid vote so long as it could not be proven that they had been moved from elsewhere, rejecting its former rule. 

The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) stated that with this decision the YSK, made up of high judges, had become a stooge of the government. It vowed to appeal against the results of 37 percent of the ballot boxes. The CHP claims that the YSK announcement casts a shadow on between 1.5 million and 2.5 million votes, while the gap between “Yes” and “No” is some 1.3 million. CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu also noted that “at least half” of the population objected to the new constitution despite unfair conditions during the campaign, saying the approved constitution text far from reflected a social consensus.

The Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) announced that it would appeal against the results of some two thirds of the boxes. Most of the majority Kurdish provinces in the southeast voted “No” in the referendum.

There are other particularly important results of the vote. “No” votes prevailed in all three big cities of Turkey: Istanbul, Ankara and İzmir. Along with other important cities like Antalya, Adana and Mersin, where “No” also prevailed, they represent almost three thirds of Turkey’s financial, industrial, touristic, cultural and educational power. This effectively means that the more urbane, economically important, educated and open to the world part of Turkey will be governed by rules approved by less economically important, less educated and more inward looking part of Turkey. This is not a differentiation between constituencies but by voter profiles. In her reporting of the first impressions from the AK Parti headquarters, daily Hürriyet’s Ankara bureau chief Hande Fırat said they are also aware of that fact.

In his first victory speech, Erdoğan sent a message to “friends and allies,” as Prime Minister Yıldırım did, saying that they should not isolate but rather embrace Turkey after this result. That is vital not only for the political integration of NATO member Turkey with the European Union but also for attracting foreign investments and opening up new export markets. However, in his second “balcony speech” to crowds he also said he would bring forward the issue of reinstating the death penalty, as he has promised throughout the campaign. That is not the correct message for either the EU or attracting foreign investment.

Ultimately, the percentages do not change the final result – regardless of whether 51 percent or 60 percent, as Erdoğan demanded during the campaign, voted “Yes.” Still, the total vote share of the AK Parti and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) was more than 60 percent in the 2015 elections, and the April 16 result represents a significant drop in both their vote potentials. It was obvious from the expressions on the faces of Erdoğan and his close aides during the victory speech that they were not happy with the outcome. Erdoğan is a politician experienced enough to know that this narrow win will not allow him to take steps as freely as he could with a greater gap.

Erdoğan has reached a target that he has been pursuing for nearly 10 years, but it has been an exhausting victory.