Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has won the crucial referendum for a new constitution that will vastly increase his executive authority. The crucial referendum has laid a new course for the future of Turkish politics. So what does the yes vote mean and what are the immediate fallouts of the win for Erdoğan?
According to state-run Anadolu news agency, the referendum won a yes vote of 51.3 per cent Turks against 48.7 per cent that voted no.
In 2010, the ruling Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi (AKP) enacted a law governing electoral process. However, despite the clear provisions of the legislation, the High Electoral Board allowed counting of nearly 1.5 million unsealed ballots for the April 16 referendum. Erdoğan won by 51% votes taking a lead at the last minute.
President Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) were of the opinion that an executive presidency would herald an ever more stable political environment in Turkey and that was the base of their referendum call. The yes vote, however, has left the Opposition, particularly the principal Opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) crying foul over the result calling it fraudulent. The referendum could result in Turkey becoming more religious and divided.
The yes vote effectively means executive powers to Erdoğan to a degree unprecedented since 1980s when the country was under military rule. It will also bring more of a ‘one-man rule’ situation in the country diluting the segregation of power in Turkey to great measure.
Erdoğan can now expand his powers to an executive presidency which means that he will be the head of state and the head of government.
The victory has shown that the country has reached near the peak of its polarisation point. Study by Ihsan Yilmaz, professor of Islamic studies at Deakin University, westernised Turks as well as secularists account for a third of the Turkish population. Much of it stands against the AKP. The Alevis–non-Sunni Muslims–who follow a hybrid mix of Shia Islam–Turcoman Shamanism and Anatolian Sufism–have been apprehensive of the AKP and the possible rise of Salafists. Also, according to a study by Fondation-Institut kurde de Paris, Turkish Kurds account for around 20 per cent of the Turkish population. Much of this population is unlikely to stand with Erdoğan.
The faultlines in Turkey continue to drop deeper with the increasingly undemocratic country led by a leader with no ambitions of a European Union membership. Erdoğan is realistically left with less than half of an amalgam of of conservative, nationalist, Muslim voters.
What Erdoğan could do
Unless he is occupied elsewhere, he could focus more on his bid to clamp down on Kurdish dissidents and the secularists (white Turks) as well as the Alevis. The leftist and anti-Gulenist purges are more than likely to go on, with increased force this time.
As Erdoğan would now exercise more control over AKP as well, Abdullah Gul (former foreign minister of Turkey, prime minister and president and co-founder of AK Party), Bulent Arinc (former deputy PM, speaker and AKP co-founder), Ahmet Davutoglu (former foreign minister and prime minister) among other top leaders now face the threat of being purged and being imprisoned.
It is also expected that in order to rope in the support of Nationalist Movement Party (Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi) and Islamist Saadet Party voters, Erdoğan could escalate his anti-west rhetoric. He could also open Hagia Sophia museum as a mosque, bring the death penalty back into the legal system, relinquish Council of EU membership and putting an end to the EU membership process.
He could, according to the 18 amendments approved on Sunday, abolish the post of Turkish prime minister. Remove the need for presidential neutrality. Stand in two-five year election cycles and a third with parliamentary approval. He could also appoint six of a pruned panel of 13 top judges while the others would be chose by the elected parliamentarians. As a takeaway, he could potentially remain in power till 2029. His current terms ends in 2019.
Challenges that could stoke disunity
Turkish voters have shown amazing support to Erdoğan and his AKP that he co-founded and helped lead during the country’s economic boom period between 2002 and 2015. However, the polarisation as seen in the referendum shows that nearly half the country may even be willing to stand up against the executive president and that would open some hope for dissent and may help galvanise political opponents to balance out the political situation in the country which has had a rich tradition of political pluralism.
One key issue that could derail Erdoğan’s new Turkey project is the turn of the economic tide. The massive looming debt crisis threatens an economic collapse. That could, in all possibility, mobilise a social and political upsurge against Erdoğan.
What may stoke the strife in the already polarised Turkish society is the challenge of handling Syrian refugee crisis, terrorism charges by ISIS and Kurdish rebels as well as the Syrian war.