The referendum is over; now what about the tension?
The April 16 referendum deciding on Turkey’s future resulted in a victory for the “yes” front, with 51.4 percent of the electorate authorizing the government to implement a “Turkish-style” presidential system in the country versus 48.6 percent against it.
But, however much of the voting arithmetic came out in favor of the “yes” front, the narrow gap between “yes” and “no” clearly demonstrates that half the population does not consent to the new charter.
Equally important was the fact that 13 provinces that account for 62 percent of Turkey’s GDP all said “no.”
When one adds the fact that there was an inverse proportion between education and urbanization and the “yes” vote, it becomes clear that the system insistently championed by a party that climbed to power by trumpeting development and integration into capitalist markets failed to receive the assent of the segments that drive the economy.
In this respect, EU Turkey Rapporteur Kati Piri’s post-referendum observation that “millions of Turkish citizens are protecting EU values” is right on the mark.
Despite this, there is no indication that the government has interpreted the results in such a fashion. Instead, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan took the opportunity in his first “balcony speech” to muse about plans for a public vote on the death penalty. As everyone knows, reinstating capital punishment will automatically sever EU accession negotiations because it violates the Copenhagen criteria.
Still, with the referendum now done and dusted, why are they still ratcheting up the tension?
One reason might be the possibility that the transition to the presidential system could be implemented earlier. Normally, the new system is expected to go into effect in 2019, when Erdoğan’s current term as president ends. Until then, necessary laws are required to pave the way for the transition, but it is possible that this process could be accelerated with a call for an early election.
If this is indeed the plan, it would be prudent to conclude that Turkey is still in election mode. In such a case, the immediate move to open a debate about capital punishment starts to make a lot more sense.
Already, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has elicited a serious reaction for its criticisms in an initial report that noted the referendum campaign was not conducted on a level playing field and that the Supreme Election Board’s (YSK) decision to accept ballots and envelopes without seals had shaken trust in the elections and violated the country’s laws.
The next critical turning point between Turkey and the European Union will be an April 25 vote in the European Parliament regarding the functioning of Turkey’s democratic institutions that could result in the country being placed under monitoring once more due to regressions in human rights and the rule of law.
Should such a vote pass, it’s not particularly difficult to anticipate Turkey’s response.
In the wake of the referendum results, the government would be wise to woo “no” voters and adopt measures to allay their concerns in the period to come. In fact, Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım’s initial calls for unity after the referendum appeared in such a vein.
Therefore, Turkey is likely to adopt a strategy in which it will attempt to reduce tension at home while continuing to play hardball internationally. Both the stance challenging the EU and the declarations of new Euphrates Shield operations indicate that the government will continue to stoke nationalist sentiments in order to mobilize the electorate’s support during the transition to the new system.
But as long as there is no attempt to understand why half the country said “no” to the proposed changes, there appears little chance that steps will be taken to reduce social polarization.
With 64 percent of foreign investment in Turkey coming from EU-based companies, continuing political tension with Europe – or even turmoil that leads to a rupture in relations – could create harm, especially when compounded by the effects of what Hürriyet columnist Uğur Gürses has identified: an expenditure-oriented election economy.
In such a situation, segments that the government has tried to unite using nationalism might soon be joining hands in fear for the future of the economy.