Last night, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan narrowly won his referendum to expand his powers as President of Turkey. The BBC:
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s push for an executive presidency succeeded with just over 51% of the vote.
The win was met with both celebrations and protests across Turkey.
The CHP is refusing to accept the “Yes” victory and is demanding a recount of 60% of the votes, criticising a decision to pass unstamped ballot papers as valid unless proven otherwise.
Three of Turkey’s biggest cities – Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir – all voted “no” to the constitutional changes. [….]
With 99.97% of ballots counted, the “Yes” campaign had won 51.41% of the votes cast, while “No” had taken 48.59%.
For once, the pre-election polls were right. The final vote was close, closer even than the polls suggested, considering the strongly Yes expatriate vote. A map of the results reveals the profound divisions the referendum raised within Turkey. While Diyarbakir and the far-southeast voted No, Erdogan carried much of the Kurdish vote, winning provinces like Gaziantep and Sanliurfa outright. Notably, Turkey’s three largest cities—Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir—voted No, a far worse result than Erdogan (former mayor of Istanbul) would have hoped for given the AKP’s strong performance in the last parliamentary elections. Even more so than usual, the Anatolian hinterlands carried Erdogan across the line. While the No camp is in the process of challenging the vote, and international monitors decried the “unlevel playing field” that saw the leaders of the opposition HDP imprisoned and the No campaign marginalized, there’s little reason to think the results will be overturned.
The powers now-granted to President Erdogan are extensive. Under the new “presidential system” he will be both head of state and head of government for the first time. Other, more subtle changes make that position near-dictatorial. The office of Prime Minister will be abolished, along with most forms of parliamentary oversight. The Constitutional and Supreme Courts, while they retain some of their independence, will now be directly appointed by Erdogan and parliament. Should he resume leadership of the AKP (which may happen as early as the end of the month), Erdogan will be able to hand-pick party members for elected office. The changes also extend his term limit until 2029, though a convenient loophole would allow him to serve even longer.
While some of the changes won’t be implemented until after the next election in 2019, Erdogan effectively already exercises many of the powers under Turkey’s state of emergency, which has been in place since the July 15 coup attempt. Unsurprisingly, the state of emergency is set to be extended yet again following the referendum.
Some of Erdogan’s immediate goals are clear. Another referendum on restoring the death penalty is high on the agenda. The president of the European Commission has said that that move, which would almost certainly pass, would end Turkey’s EU accession talks. The writing has been on the wall for Turkey’s accession talks for some time— after Brexit, Turkey lost its strongest supporter in the EU and Erdogan’s victory is at least in part a product of his strategy to make the EU his enemy. The next step to watch will be Turkey’s “final offer” on visa-free travel within the EU, which will in turn decide the fate of the migrant deal that helped pause the massive refugee flows into Europe.
Within Turkey, the vote is an affirmation of the steps Erdogan has taken following the coup attempt, including a re-assertion of control of the military, political repression of the opposition, and massive purges across Turkish society.
But more importantly it’s also a symbolic end to the century-old Kemalist secular project in Turkey. Much as Ataturk wielded similar powers to end the Ottoman Caliphate and bring the Turkish Republic into being, Erdogan will now have the unfettered power to remake Turkey into a great power in the Ottomanist tradition. Whether an Islamist Turkey can remain a partner of the EU, a NATO ally, and a pillar of regional stability, however, is unknown.