Polarized Turkey

Polarized Turkey

It is so interesting to see how naive some Western leaders can be. That after the referendum ended with a razor thin majority of the “yes” camp, which has opened Turkey’s doors to a super presidential system of governance, some of the nation’s allies have realized how polarized the country is. They must be joking. 

In an accelerated speed, the nation was subjected to a systematic “governance with tension” policy - the key components fueling frictions within the society - by talking constantly on elements dividing the nation rather than those uniting it, and by mercilessly rejecting those who refused to succumb to full obedience to the rule of the political clan in power. Was Turkey more united on the morning of April 16 when it went to the constitutional referendum than it was in the evening when it approved President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s super presidential aspirations?

A referendum on a set of constitutional amendments, which is by far the most important vote this nation has ever participated in – as the system of governance would be affected – probably should have required higher than 50 percent approval vote. Still, the rule of the game was set beforehand and Erdoğan succeeded in getting 51.6 percent of the vote. Therefore, regarding its legitimacy, no one can have the right to say he should have received a higher percentage. On the other hand, there are rampant claims that the vote was massively rigged and while almost 1 million votes were declared invalid, some 2.5 million votes cast in envelopes without the seal of the electoral body were considered valid despite clear stipulations of the law. 

The Higher Electoral Board (YSK) head explained that the envelopes were made out of special paper and the seal was not absolutely necessary to avoid rigging. Did he manage to satisfy the concerns of people? No… The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) complained and demanded for a recount, therefore, it is reasonable. Will it be accepted? Unfortunately not… Why? Because the YSK, which is considered one of the high authorities of the country whose decisions are final and cannot be appealed, proved vividly since the presidential election in August 2014, its high vulnerability of being manipulated by the political authority. Does anyone remember how the YSK withheld the publication of the presidential election official results at the time to allow Erdoğan shape his succession as the Justice and Development Party (AKP) leader and prime minister?

Why did the YSK announce at the closure of Sunday’s referendum vote that how the ballot papers were stamped did not matter and with or without the YSK seal on the ballot envelopes the vote would still be valid? Can anyone ignore the claims, particularly from southeastern provinces, that while unsealed ballot boxes mostly containing “yes” voters’ ballot papers were considered valid, while thousands of ballot envelopes carrying official stamps and containing “no” votes were in city’s dumpsters? Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Istanbul deputy Pervin Buldan shared one such photo on social media saying, “You tore stamped ‘no’ votes and dumped them to a construction site, and then consider unsealed ‘yes’ votes as valid and still say ‘Kurds voted for us.’”

Currently, two messages are spreading fast on social media. One among the pro-Erdoğan groups, reminding what happened in Egypt after the referendum that former President Mohammed Morsi held on his Islamist constitution. The other is distributed among the opponents of Erdoğan, which is a long message, but in summary it was distress over the political hegemony over the judiciary, arbitrary arrests, smearing everyone critical of the government or the president of being terrorists, sacking from public duties with forged documents or just because of an unverified complaint. 

The key demand, of course, was to bring an end to the state of emergency that Erdoğan initiated to extend for another three months starting from today. 

Turkey has undergone a very traumatic period over the past almost 15 years, but particularly since the failed July 15, 2016, coup attempt. Measures taken after the coup were indeed far more traumatizing than the failed attempt. Was it some sort of a Stockholm syndrome that 51.6 percent of Turks wanted Erdoğan to become a super president? Perhaps. But the fact is that this nation is severely divided and the two poles are gradually cutting all their links with each other. That’s the challenge.