Erdoğan’s victory: without support of megapolises but with single opposition leader and ageing electorate
Will the authoritarian regime tighten in Turkey after the referendum? Opinions of Realnoe Vremya’s experts
A constitutional referendum took place in Turkey on last Sunday. During the election, citizens needed to decide which republic they would have – still parliamentarian or presidential. Amendments to the major law of the country presuppose a considerable expansion of the president's power, noticeable changes in the legislature and executive power. Several months before the referendum, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and ruling Justice and Development Party actively urged the population to vote ''for''. As Realnoe Vremya's experts think, the result was quite expected: supporters of amendments to the Constitution of the republic won with a small advantage (51,4%). At the same time, some political experts are afraid that the country will become more authoritarian, and too active actions of its president can intensify a split in the society. However, there are positive moments too.
Citizens said ''No'' to Erdoğan
It became known on 17 April that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan won in the referendum on amendments to the Constitution of Turkey. But the margin was not wide. 51,4% of voters said ''yes'' and 48,6% of voters were against.
Despite the victory of supporters of amendments to the Constitution, citizens of the biggest Turkish cities – İstanbul, Ankara and İzmir – said strict ''no'' in the referendum. Ruling Justice and Development Party is losing its supporters, Hurriyet newspaper writes. If in the last elections AKP joined the parliament as winner, here the opposition block uniting Kemalists (CHP) and supporters of the pro-Kurdish party (HDP) won here even if did with a small advantage.
İstanbul gave 50% of votes against the constitutional reform. Journalists have already counted that the greatest number of supporters of ''Hayır'' (''no'' in Turkish) was in famous Beşiktaş district (83%), and the majority of supporters of ''Evet'' (''yes'' in Turkish) were in a district with a distinctive name Sultanbeyli (66,93%).
The situation is similar in Ankara. Initially, Ankara was considered a city of bureaucracy (because it is an administrative capital of the country). But now the bureaucracy is blended with business representatives. Representatives of the defence industry, trade and constructors are the skeleton of entrepreneurship of Ankara. The highest level of people who got education join them.
Even if the supporters and opponents of the amendments were even first, at one point the ''no'' team took the lead. 51% of the voted citizens said ''Hayır''. It happened despite magnificent forecasts of the mayor of the Turkish capital. It can happen…
The third Turkish city – İzmir – followed the results with great interest. Turkey Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım spent the last 3 days in the city, visited every district meeting with voters. As a result, 55,40% were against Erdoğan's amendments. It should not be forgotten that İzmir was disgraced Fethullah Gülen's overarching city.
Electorate is becoming older but German Turks are for Erdi
As for the country in general, Bayburt had the biggest number of supporters (81,67%, a town in northeast Turkey), and Tunceli had more opponents (80,4%, a province in east Turkey).
At the same time, experts noted there have been more spoiled ballots. If they were 697,000 in the elections in 2015, now their number has grown to 847,537.
They also noted the electorate of ruling AKP is ageing. The young, educated part of the population and citizens are separating from Erdoğan's party. Murat Yetkin, a Hurriyet reviewer, notes another curiosity of this referendum. Despite Erdoğan's victory, he did it with a narrow margin, and the country got a single leader of the opposition electorate. Leader of Republican People's Party (CHP) Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu became the leader of the ''Hayır'' party. ''This is why tomorrow when branches of Republican People's Party open across the country, the CHP team will meet this day as a victory day, not a day of defeat.''
Active participation of the Turkish diaspora is among other peculiarities of voting. Turkish communities in Germany (63,01% voted ''for'') and Holland (70,38% were ''for') who actively supported Erdoğan's new reform became the electorate that changed the course of votes in favour of the ruling president. It should be noted that the majority of Turks in Russia and Ukraine voted against the reforms — 73,98% и 64,26% respectively.
As for records, the Turkish diaspora in Lebanon set it where 93,88% of voters (it is 1,058 people) voted for the amendments to the constitution. Now let's switch from the entertaining numbers to opinions of Russian experts.
Yashar Niyazbaev, journalist, editor-in-chief of Moscow Komsomolets newspaper in Turkey:
Generally speaking, the result was expected because the surveys of the last days and months showed that about 52-54% of the population would support the amendments. The real results were lower, though we can say an approximate number was expected. Although probably it was unexpected for the president of Turkey. If we recall one of his latest interviews to a Turkish TV channel when he said he expected 60% support and maybe even more. I don't think he did not know the real numbers.
''In my opinion, this referendum mainly showed that it is necessary to speak one language with people of Turkey, not only with those who support you.'' Photo: Zvezda TV channel
Voting passed actively, with interest and serious attendance – 86%. It is a good indicator. There were some incidents. Three people died in a quarrel what to vote for. The scuffle took place near a voting station in Diyarbakır. A serious conflict that ended with death because somebody in one family wanted to vote ''against''.
There was information about falsification. The major opposition party of Turkey told that about 900 ballots were counted as valid without the election commission's stamp. It is a very serious accusation. Considering the influence of these votes on the results of the referendum, an investigation should be expected. As Turkish experts say, there has never been similar accusations from the opposition in previous elections and plebiscites. In other words, this way they are giving a hint that the case can be very serious.
Judging by the rhetoric used by the president of Turkey during his speeches, we can say his words can easily touch those who doesn't share his desire to become an absolutely imperious president. Moreover, those who listened to these speeches seriously against their citizens but those who think differently. But it is not marginal part of the society. It is one in two people in the country. In my opinion, this referendum mainly showed that it is necessary to speak one language with people of Turkey, not only with those who support you. Because despite all that power that the president of Turkey already has, he did not manage to persuade all society or at least the biggest part of it to support his initiative. I am sure politicians understand it well. Mainly they use a hostile rhetoric and images of enemies as a method of easy and fast consolidation of the society. And now when the referendum ended, the goal was achieved, there is no sense in continuing separating the nation.
In fact, Erdoğan was de facto what he has achieved thanks to the referendum. He has just strengthened his position he has occupied recently and 51% approval. Judging by the amendments, all executive power as well as possibility to issue decrees will be under his control. He will also have a serious influence on judiciary, bureaucracy and international relations. It will be almost possible to control him considering that now he will be a president belonging to a party. Over 400 votes from 600 deputies will be needed to call the president for responsibility on some issue.
As for the ''hunt for witches'', probably it already doesn't have room to be stricter: all unwanted people were unseated, dismissed, jailed, etc. And others left the country.
''Erdoğan is already almost controlling courts and the media. It was not formal at the moment, and it will be semi-formal after adoption of the constitutional amendments. Undoubtedly, the pressure on the discontent will grow.'' Photo: time.kz
Gevorg Mirzayan, political expert, journalist, docent of Department of Political Science at Financial Institute Under the Government of the Russian Federation:
Everybody understood it was fifty-fifty but with Erdoğan's slender majority. All state propaganda machine of Turkey was tailored for the referendum. Anyway, the country had all necessary mass repressions before the referendum that happened to frighten others. Anyway, Recep Erdoğan did his best before the referendum to won the nationalistic agenda: he intensified the conflict with Europeans to have nationalists' votes. In general, he won.
Erdoğan is already almost controlling courts and the media. It was not formal at the moment, and it will be semi-formal after adoption of the constitutional amendments. Undoubtedly, the pressure on the discontent will grow. If I understand correctly, the amendments come into force only in 2019. One can fight, the media can fight until this time, of course. There won't be opposition in Turkey after 2019. They have two years to oppose, maybe Europe will help: Europe is not keen on it all. This is why Erdoğan will answer somehow.
The pressure on Gülen's supporters will continue because Fethullah Gülen is a symbol of opposition to Erdoğan, perhaps not deserved, but, still, a symbol of opposition.
''Such serious issues, which are important for political regime, are raised in a referendum when the regime is sure he can count on the support of the majority of the population. For Erdoğan, the result was quite expected.'' Photo: svpressa.ru
Leonid Isaev, political expert, deputy director of Laboratory for Monitoring the Risks of Socio-Political Destabilisation at Higher School of Economics:
Raising such an issue in the referendum, Erdoğan needed to be sure he would win. Otherwise, it would mean a sunset of his political career. Such serious issues, important for political regime are raised in a referendum when the regime is sure it can count on the support of the majority of the population. For Erdoğan, the result was quite expected, though, of course, there was a certain risk that there would be more people who don't agree with the changes in the Constitution. And we saw it in the results of the referendum: the difference is small, minimum. The Turkish society is very polarised now. Erdoğan was confident in the victory even with a slender margin, of course. Otherwise, the risk would not be justified.
The policy pursued by Erdoğan in recent time affected, of course. It was seen that while preparing for the referendum, Turks were concentrated on solution of domestic problems, neutralisation of their foreign policy to not to distract from the preparation for the referendum. And the result was quite expected. No sensible person said there would be a wide margin.
It will lead to nothing good: it is an intensification of the central power, noticeable ascendancy of the current Turkish president's position who ensured himself presidency in the next years with quite a lot of power. In fact, it is such a democratic way of central power entrenchment that we have seen many times and not only in Turkey. This is why Erdoğan is paving his way to a reinforcement of authoritarian mechanisms of ruling in Turkey during his presidency and a greater separation from the foundations laid in Atatürk's era.
''A large scale is impossible without an obvious victory. But he [Erdoğan] looks very decisive.'' Photo: facebook.com
Ekaterina Shulman, political expert, docent of Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration:
The country is unlikely to become more democratic after the referendum because those amendments mean a movement towards a more authoritarian model, even constitutional. President's more rights and the Parliament's fewer rights can't be called democratisation. Another question is how it will be done because such a narrow margin of the new constitution supporters and a split on the line that is well seen on the map (coastline, big cities against central rural regions) tie the hands. A large scale is impossible without an obvious victory. But he [Erdoğan] looks very decisive. Same death penalty is the moment that irritates the European Union a lot. And if it is real, it will be an obstacle on the way to the EU if Turkey still aspires there.
Actually, the big picture looks the following way: the current president aspires to bring Turkey to bigger authoritarianism, a unity. At the moment, his victory doesn't look so obvious. If he acts as if he had won with an 80% margin, there can be a considerable split. The group that was ''against'' is numerically almost equal to the group that was ''for''. This all needs to be taken into account to conserve the balance, to conserve the civil peace.
''The referendum on the change of the Constitution almost gave the president superpower having approached the political model to Russian or French.'' Photo: facebook.com
Ruslan Aisin, political expert, editor-in-chief of Poistine magazine:
Turkish has become a country of an active political activity in recent time. Mainly it is Erdoğan and his party's merit. Having come into power, moderate Islamists, so to speak, opened the road to democratic transformations and changes of the political landscape of the country. They managed to press the power of the military bureaucracy, legalise political Islam, create a pluralistic community, permit hijabs in official and educational establishments, etc.
The referendum on the change of the Constitution almost gave the president superpower having approached the political model to Russian or French. It is clear why Erdoğan made this step: a coup in the country one year ago where cleric Fethullah Gülen's structures participated together with militaries was almost successful. Erdoğan decided to clean this disloyal fifth column field. Mass arrests, crackdown – it all is still under way. We also should not forget that Turkey is fighting abroad against DAESH (an organisation banned in Russia) and Kurds. The Kurdish terroristic backstage does its best to destabilise the situation in the country. They run a terrorist campaign almost every day.
Precisely Kurds, Atatürk's followers (nationalists), pro-Western liberals and Gülen's supporters voted against the referendum. The Turkish backwater, industrial regions, conservators and the Islamic young voted ''for''. Modern Turkey has always been split into almost two equal parts. It is its historical fate. Its geographical situation literally confirms this point: one part is in Europe, the other part is in Asia. The Turkish community is diverse. But there is nothing surprising for it.
A political opposition is inevitable, of course. It is a normal political fight.
I think now Turkey needs centralised power, not divided. It has had too many trials in recent time. Strong political turbulences will just weaken Ankara. While the number of its external friends is just decreasing…