The ‘No’ vote

The ‘No’ vote

In pro-government and allegiant media many pundits have been exploring the reasons behind the 48.6 percent “No” vote. It appears that while the “No” front claims the referendum was rigged, at least 2.5 to three percentage points of the votes cast were stolen or replaced with “yes” votes in “unsealed envelopes,” the “Yes” front is having difficulty understanding how almost 49 percent of the nation objected to the country moving to satisfy the super presidential rule aspirations of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Blaming every abnormality on the sinister efforts of Fethullah Gülen’s organization, which is dubbed as FETÖ, and the July 15, 2016, failed coup that it is alleged to have led, has become not only fashion but also a very much respected excuse for everything that might not appear legally, morally or ethically appropriate. One common phrase in the pro-government media in describing the “No” vote was the firm conviction that it was cast by people who were either still loyal to the so-called FETÖ terrorist gang or had so much animosity toward Erdoğan, that it had nothing to do with national interests.

Unfortunately, the country is polarized and the pro-democracy “No” front and the allies of Erdoğan no longer speak the same language. This situation cannot be sustainable. The referendum result demonstrated that nothing can be undertaken in this country without taking into consideration the very strong opposition reflected on the ballot box despite the atmosphere of fear, endangered legislative and the executive of the country, as well as the judiciary with all its high and low courts and almost the entire media restricted. 

The massive purge of the critics of Erdoğan has been continuing in an accelerating pace in the country since the failed coup with the state of emergency, which was extended again this week by parliament to a further three-month period. The state of emergency itself was a reality challenging the legitimacy of the referendum but it was neither the sense of belonging to a political party, nor the immense hatred felt by some for Erdoğan that were instrumental in getting such a high “No” vote that shocked the “Yes” front. Yes, some of the “No” vote was because of the discontent with the spreading poverty, or the anger generated by the “yes to presidential governance now, yes to a federal Turkey tomorrow” mentality of some of the advisors of Erdoğan. Some “No” votes were because of the continuous and merciless downgrading of the opponents not only by Erdoğan himself but an army of mouthpieces active in newspaper columns or through the troll accounts abundant on social media. Yet most “No” votes represented the concerns people had over their lifestyles and democratic values and a dedication to defend the secular and modern Turkey, which is anchored to the West.

Turkey’s Western allies, who for various reasons have been rather hypocritical in their relations with Ankara, will have to decide whether or not the new autocratic Erdoğan governance might be compatible with Western values and norms. What would mean if the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe places Turkey on monitoring? Will the EU officially suspend the accession process? If European institutions walk down such a road, how will Europe maintain its influence over Turkey, a country which not only in terms of its economy, but security and political reasons too has been so vital for the old continent?

To what extend will the referendum results be valid? Whether it was rigged or not is a question that cannot be answered in full confidence. If the Supreme Election Board (YSK) itself has become part of the irregularity by accepting millions of unsealed envelopes, claiming the national will could not be sacrificed because those envelopes were the result of the negligence of people in charge of the polling booths. Any sober mind would ask why in the law it clearly says votes should be cast in sealed envelopes otherwise it will be considered invalid, or why the electoral board is an institution that can override a clear stipulation of the electoral law. Yet, this is a country where the “order cuts iron” proverb has become entrenched. 

Naturally, as expected from him, Erdoğan will continue using every power handed to the presidency with the latest changes in the constitution.