Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Photo: Pixabay Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Photo: Pixabay

The victory for the Yes campaign is far less than Erdoğan was hoping for and shows a country divided argues Shabbir Lakha

Erdoğan has clinched the “Yes” vote in Turkey’s referendum. But only just. The final unofficial count shows that Evet (Yes) won with 51.3% of the vote, around 1.25 million votes ahead of Hayir (No). The victory has been claimed amid allegations of voter fraud over which the CHP and HDP opposition parties are challenging more than a third of the ballot boxes and potentially calling for a recount.

The Electoral Board gave the Yes campaign a last minute lifeline by agreeing to accept unstamped ballots which raise serious concerns about the integrity of the referendum. In some areas, state media reported the votes as already counted when in fact they hadn’t made it to the Electoral Board yet.

Protests have broken out around the country including in several areas in Istanbul, with protesters chanting “Istifa (resign)!” and the sound of pots and pans being banged chiming in the streets and from balconies.

What did the people vote for?

The historic referendum was to decide whether or not to put forward 18 constitutional changes proposed by the ruling AKP government. The changes have largely been criticised as a move towards autocracy and sealing Erdoğan’s one-man-rule of Turkey.

The amendments will abolish the post of Prime Minister and change the current ceremonial post of Presidency into one with executive powers. They will effectively take away Parliament’s legislative authority and its scrutiny of the Government; and erode the separation of powers because the President will have the power to make appointments to the cabinet and judiciary as well as give him control of budgets.

The changes were first proposed by the AKP in 2005, but only formally put forward to Parliament in 2016. In Turkey’s June 2015 elections, the ruling AKP lost their absolute majority when the pro-Kurdish rights HDP and the far right MHP won 80 seats in Parliament each. Erdoğan was keen to push for the constitutional reform, but needed 330 votes in Parliament (three fifths) in order to put the amendments to a referendum.

This ultimately become the point of contention that barred any coalition forming, and gave Erdoğan the time to crack down on the HDP before the next general election in November to ensure the AKP achieved a majority once more. The MHP, who were initially not in favour of the constitutional changes, in December 2016 provided the Parliamentary votes needed to put the amendments to a referendum.

What does the result mean for Erdoğan?

Assuming any challenge by the CHP and HDP doesn’t significantly alter or dismiss the result, Erdoğan has won the right to begin unrolling the constitutional changes that will vastly increase the power he has and cement his position as the one man ruler of Turkey.

However, the vote was far closer than anticipated and signifies a huge drop in support for the AKP. The No vote was the majority in 17 major cities, including in Turkey’s three largest cities: Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir. The vote is far from the “stabilising” or “unifying” result that Erdoğan was hoping for.

The AKP have been ruling since 2002 and seeking to change to a Presidential system for 12 years. The country has been in a state of emergency since the failed coup last year and the government has ramped up repression against its critics since. Dozens of opposition MPs and Mayors have been jailed, over 170 media institutions have been closed down, 150 journalists are in prison and tens of thousands of academics and civil servants have been fired or imprisoned.

The AKP deployed nationalist rhetoric to gather support for Evet and joining up with MHP only amplified this. They also made full use of the bans on their politicians holding rallies in several European countries and the ensuing diplomatic tensions to spread this nationalist line of why the changes were necessary for a strong Turkey. It partly worked. Turkish citizens in the Netherlands, Germany and France overwhelmingly voted Yes, while in the UK and USA the vote was a majority No.

Given all of this and the fact that the Yes campaign had over ten times more media coverage than the No campaign and the full funding and resources of the government, pulling a 2% lead in a vote marred with inconsistencies is hardly a victory.

The people of Turkey shouldn’t give up and the left must rally around the clearly depreciating credibility of the government by organising around the important issues that face Turkish society including the Kurdish question, refugees, war and foreign policy and of course the battle for democracy.

Shabbir Lakha

Shabbir Lakha is a Stop the War officer, a People's Assembly activist and a member of Counterfire.