I was in to see my eye doctor last week. I hadn’t seen her since July, before I left for family summer vacation and before her family vacation to Turkey where two of her older children are attending college. At that visit in 2016 I gently expressed my worry about the region, and she insisted it is crazy all over the world right now. And then the attempted coup hit just as she and her family arrived and settled in. So, when I saw her last week I brought up the event. And I was a little surprised at her reaction. She said, first of all, it was not as bad as the Western media had portrayed it. She also glowed a bit at how the Turkish president had urged citizens to go out into the streets and take back their democracy. I was disappointed she saw this platitude as a positive, instead of the ploy to get civilians into a violent and bloody altercation with the couping factions of the Turkish military. She even championed that “the citizens had taken back democracy”. She also openly admitted to not following the news much, so, I sort of assumed I knew more about the political dynamic than she did. I kept myself silent as to pointing out the anti-democratic moves and measures Erdogan had taken hours after the coup was defeated, and in the days and months since.
And yesterday brought yet another strike against Turkey’s democracy, and more weight to Erdogan’s growing power-grab over Turkey and her citizens, as those citizens voted to give the Turkish president even more undemocratic power over the country…
More than any other reform, the Law on Fundamental Organization represented a path from dynastic rule to the modern era. And it was this change that was at stake in Turkey’s referendum over the weekend. Much of the attention on Sunday’s vote was focused on the fact that it was a referendum on the power of the Turkish presidency and the polarizing politician who occupies that office, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Yet it was actually much more.
Whether they understood it or not, when Turks voted “Yes”, they were registering their opposition to the Teşkilât-ı Esasîye Kanunu and the version of modernity that Ataturk imagined and represented. Though the opposition is still disputing the final vote tallies, the Turkish public seems to have given Erdogan and the AKP license to reorganize the Turkish state and in the process raze the values on which it was built. Even if they are demoralized in their defeat, Erdogan’s project will arouse significant resistance among the various “No” camps. The predictable result will be the continuation of the purge that has been going on since even before last July’s failed coup including more arrests and the additional delegitimization of Erdogan’s parliamentary opposition. All of this will further destabilize Turkish politics.
Erdogan is an authoritarian, like those found throughout the world. But he is also inspired by Ottoman history, and there are aspects of his rule that echo that era. As the Turkish president has come to rely on a smaller and smaller group of advisors, including members of his family, his “White Palace” — the presidential palace in Ankara he built on land once owned by Ataturk — has come to resemble, not merely in grandeur, the palaces of the Ottoman sultans. Yet his effort to secure the executive presidency goes much deeper than that. Erdogan wants to tear down the republic because both he and the people he represents have suffered at the hands of those who have led and defended it. It would be impractical and impossible to re-create the governing structures of the Ottoman state, but in the Turkish-Islamist imagination, the age of the Ottomans was not only the apotheosis of Turkish culture and power, but a tolerant and progressive era. For Erdogan’s core constituency, in particular, the AKP era has been a golden era, a modern day analogue to this manufactured past. These predominantly pious and middle class Turks enjoy personal and political freedoms that they were once denied. They have also enjoyed upward economic and social mobility. By granting Erdogan the executive presidency he has so coveted, they are looking forward to even greater achievements.
This cannot end well, for anybody:
The overall result is a narrow victory for Mr Erdogan – one small enough to be disputed by his opponents. But turnout for the divisive vote was high – 85%.
And while a 51% victory may not seem like much, Turkey’s large population means the Yes vote’s margin is actually 1,124,091 votes.
Turnout was also very high – reported at 85% by the country’s Anadolu news agency.
Opponents have been questioning the inclusion of more than one million unstamped ballot papers as valid – and await the verdict of international observers.
Turkey awoke to a new era on Monday. President Erdogan narrowly won the historic referendum that will replace the parliamentary system with an all-powerful presidential system.
But the result ended on a knife-edge. According to the High Electoral Board, 51.4% voted Yes and 48.6% No.
Turkey was already a polarised country, but after a divisive referendum campaign – held under a state of emergency – it seems more divided than ever. The No campaign complained of an unfair contest with restricted access to airtime on the national media – and such a narrow margin of victory for the other side has only sharpened their anger.
Amid opposition claims of serious irregularities affecting more than two million votes, a shadow has already been cast over the legitimacy of the vote, polarising people even further.
On the streets of Istanbul jubilant crowds chanted President Erdogan’s name on Sunday night, honking car horns and shouting “God is great!”.
But in some areas you could also hear the banging of pots and pans – a popular way of protesting, since the massive anti-government riots in 2013, against President Erdogan and his governing AK party.
In Besiktas, a neighbourhood in Istanbul where 83% voted a resounding No, hundreds took to the streets.
Marchers demanded that the government resign, saying the vote was rigged, and called on fellow residents to join the protests on the street.
“I am about to have a nervous breakdown,” one young woman said as she banged on the cooking pot she carried with her.
A nearby couple were discussing whether human rights would suffer under the proposed constitutional changes.
There were similar scenes in some neighbourhoods of other big cities, such as the capital Ankara and the western city of Izmir.
Never before in the 14-year-rule of the governing AKP party has a majority in these three cities voted against President Erdogan. Between them, they account for around a quarter of Turkey’s population. This is being seen by many as a message from Turkey’s urban centres that “we are not convinced”….