The Turkish opposition’s dilemma on the referendum result

The Turkish opposition’s dilemma on the referendum result

The Turkish referendum on the presidency is over but both the legal and the political debates are continuing, despite the Supreme Election Board’s (YSK) rejection of the appeals by the opposition parties over the claims of fraud in the vote count.

The naysayers have protested the YSK ruling, claiming it was taken under government pressure – similar to its announcement on the night of the referendum on April 16 that the unsealed ballots would be accepted as valid. The social democratic Republican People’s Party (CHP) and Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which focuses on the Kurdish issue, formally appealed to the YSK for the annulment of the referendum on that reason.

The only legal way left for the naysayers is to appeal to the Constitutional Court on an individual basis, not as a party. If that will be the case, if there will be appeal requests by individual citizens, will the top court annul the referendum, even if the fraud charges are proven somehow? That is a delicate question, especially if the current political atmosphere in Turkey is considered.

The system change has been desired by President Tayyip Erdoğan for at least the last 10 years. With the backing of Devlet Bahçeli, the leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Erdoğan and Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım was able to push it through parliament to the referendum. That has cost Bahçeli dear. A recent survey by IPSOS/CNN Türk showed that more than 70 percent of his party did not vote “yes” in the referendum. But the “yes” front managed to get 51.4 percent of the votes, but that was overshadowed by the YSK announcement about the unsealed ballots, which was likened to moving the goalposts after the game was over.

The amendments involve the Constitutional Court a lot; a majority of its members will be appointed by the president. The court ruling will probably be questioned as being a political one, regardless of the outcome.
CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said they retain the option of going to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) if the appeal is rejected by the Constitutional Court. There will perhaps be no legal problem regarding such a move, but would that be the right thing to do in political terms? Going to an international court to cancel a national vote is not something seen before; it is legally OK but politically questionable.

The CHP leader is also under pressure from within his party and from naysayers outside the CHP to take a more active stance against Erdoğan, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government and the YSK rulings. A gaffe by the party spokeswoman Selin Sayek Böke on April 19 about boycotting parliament was immediately corrected by a senior party figure, Levent Gök. Kılıçdaroğlu is trying to keep followers away from street protests for two main reasons: the physical security of the crowds against police action or possible counter demonstrations by pro-government groups and to avoid being publicly targeted by the government for bringing legal politics outside the parliament.

The HDP is already in trouble, with 14 of its members of parliament in jail, including co-chairs Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ. But at least the HDP has proven that it retained its grassroots with their call for “no” to a great extent.

The MHP could not do that as well. The dissidents who were expelled from the party by Bahçeli have not only proven that they have more influence on the grassroots but deny the allegations that they will establish a new party; Koray Aydın, the former secretary general, said on April 18 that their “home is the MHP” and that they “did not need any other one” as an indirect threat to Bahçeli’s position.