The paradox of the referendum

The paradox of the referendum

An interesting paradox of the April 16 referendum is that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) alliance, in comparison to the Nov. 1, 2015, elections, was able to increase its votes only in the east and especially in the southeast. 

The conservative-nationalist alliance fell categorically in terms of votes in all other regions of Turkey. This constitutes one of the most interesting aspects of the referendum.  

Especially when the fact that the MHP is not strong in the southeast is taken into consideration, the rise of votes can only be attributed to the AK Party factor. 

Let us evaluate this situation through the analyses of survey company Metropoll and our own calculations. 

One can easily surmise that the joining of the forces of the AK Party and the MHP did not create the targeted synergy based on the fact that these two parties fell short of their performances in the Nov. 1, 2015, elections in 67 of the 81 provinces. In these provinces, the total votes of the two parties were behind the “yes” votes. Moreover, there are provinces where the “yes” votes were behind the votes of the AK Party alone on Nov. 1, such as mega cities like Istanbul, Bursa, İzmir, Ankara and Antalya.

On the other hand, in 14 provinces, the “yes” votes exceeded the combined votes of the two parties. Interestingly, all of these provinces are either in the east or southeast, with the “yes” side gaining 44,000 more in Şanlıurfa, 37,000 in Van, 16,000 in Batman, 28,000 in Şırnak, 32,000 in Mardin, 20,000 in Muş, 12,000 in Siirt, 2,000 in Tunceli, 22,000 in Ağrı, 8,000 in Bingöl, 17,000 in Bitlis, 64,000 in Diyarbakır, 19,000 in Hakkâri and 607 in Kars.

Taking a closer look at Diyarbakır, we see that MHP received 6,520 votes on Nov. 1, while the AK Party got 181,456 votes. When you add these two, it makes 187,976 votes. The “yes” votes in Diyarbakır in the referendum were 251,733 – a rise of almost 64,000.

Meanwhile, we also have to add to the equation that the provinces where the AK Party increased its votes compared to the Nov. 1 elections coincide with the provinces where turnout fell. The provinces with the biggest fall in turnout were Gümüşhane, Hakkâri, Şırnak, Van, Muş, Iğdır, Diyarbakır, Mardin, Ağrı, Bayburt, Batman and Bitlis. In these provinces, the turnout fell between 5 and 8 percent compared to Nov. 1.

A general consensus in the Kurdish votes is that while a portion of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) electorate did not go to the polls, another portion opted to vote “yes.” The reaction to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party’s (PKK) “digging ditches around towns and neighborhoods” policies has also played a certain role in this, it is believed. 

Another aspect emphasized by Metropoll survey company head Özen Sencar is that there has been a notable view among Kurds that the presidential model would be a better option for them in terms of gains related to cultural rights. According to this, even though they are HDP voters, there were Kurds who voted “yes” just for this reason.

Also, HDP spokespeople have repeatedly said there was an environment of pressure in favor of the “yes” as a result of the state of emergency conditions and the interference of the state, especially in rural areas, all of which drew the “yes” votes upward.

In any case, the strongest contradiction in this referendum in terms of the AK Party appears in the results they have gained in the southeast. The AK Party had taken off, thinking that it would draw nationalist votes to its side by making an alliance with the MHP. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan thus opted for a discourse, in this context, where nationalist tones were predominant.

However, this strategy was not very successful in drawing nationalist votes to the side of the AK Party as can be seen from referendum results.  

In fact, the desired rise has occurred in those regions where the Kurdish population lives, far from the nationalist region of Anatolia. 

It must be the most striking irony of the April 16 referendum that while nationalist votes were targeted, some degree of support has come from Kurdish votes.