What you need to know about Turkey’s referendum

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What you need to know about Turkey’s referendum

Turkey’s referendum pulled a lot of attention from Europe and international organisations: the discussion does not seem to stop about the conditions under which the referendum campaign was held, arrests, media coverage, international reports, unstamped votes and many questions. This article will firstly try to summarize the facts with an internal point of view, and then to give insights that could bring new questions and predictions.

1. What is the big deal about the proposed amendments?

Turkey has a long tradition of parliamentary system: a president of the republic who has very symbolic competences and parallelly a penal immunity; a strong parliament that holds the monopoly of the legislative power, a government that should take the vote of confidence from the parliament, an independent judiciary power. The constitutional reform changes this system from the top to the bottom: it breaks the legislative monopoly of the parliament, lifts the prime minister’s position, creates a strong president and gives the president and immense power on the judiciary – with this side of the reform, the new system cannot be considered as presidential system, but only a one-man regime. This is the main reason why not only the centre-left parties CHP and HDP, but also right-wing MHP’s voters opposed to this new system.

2. What happened during the propaganda process?

Even though many journalists and “no” campaigners were arrested or attacked, academics that are critical towards the government were expelled from their universities; the “no” campaign was built on positivity, contrary to the “yes” campaign.

Watch the campaign video of the main opposition party CHP here.

Watch the campaign video of the ruling party AKP here.

Even though you can’t understand the language, it is not difficult to see the difference of spirit between these two campaigns. CHP, who was the biggest and the most organized political power campaigning against the reform, built its strategy on giving messages of happiness, peace and togetherness. HDP was unfortunately pushed behind because its two co-chairs and several MP’s have been arrested during this process. AKP, however, could not respond the arguments of the “no” block and targeted “no” voters by calling them “terrorists” and “traitors to the nation”. This worrying attitude not only disturbed the opposition but also “yes” voters, so AKP had to change its strategy and rhetoric several times during the campaign, but this could not stop the yes block from running a negative campaign. In fact, KP’s officials said that this is a choice between chaos and stability, or that the people should vote “yes” if they wanted terrorism to be stopped.

3. What is all this discussion about the “unstamped votes”?

According to Turkish legislation, voting papers and envelopes should be stamped twice by two different institutions in order to reduce the risk of fraud. High Electoral Council is bound by this legislation, but it declared that unstamped votes will be considered valid. The number of these unstamped votes was not officially declared while CHP and HDP claim that this last-minute decision could change the result with 1.5 million votes of difference. Besides this non-stamped- votes scandal, many videos and photos running in social media created doubts on some other scandals such as plural voting, secret counting, fake signatures, etc. OSCE also issued a report on the unfairness of the referendum.

4. Is the result likely to be changed?

Unfortunately no. On the 27 th of April, the High Electoral Council rejected the opposition’s demands on annulation of the referendum result. Despite the half of the population not being convinced about the lawfulness of this period, the constitutional reform is going to enter into force. Even if the OSCE and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe declared their concerns on this issue, there seems to be a low chance of the European Court of Human Rights to examine this question for legal -and maybe political- reasons.

5. So how can the people in Turkey still be hopeful about their future?

To be honest, this is one of the most hopeless times of this generation. However, people of Turkey have a weird but great quality: they can make fun of every horribleness happening to them. This is not a joke, they can easily dance with very sad songs about broken hearts or even about death. So, people started automatically to make jokes about the things going on and the politicians. It might be, of course, unusual and non-logical to tell that hopes are created through fun, but you should remember the Gezi movement where humour was the only weapon used by the protestors, and it worked for some while. So this, at least, shows us the motivation towards another future.

On the other hand, the results show some interesting differences from the last elections in Turkey. Big cities like İstanbul and Ankara preferred to say “no” to the AKP government for the first time ever. Young people who voted for the first time said “no” by 58%. The results also show that there is a correlation between the education level and the opposition against the new system. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s face expression in the referendum night, just before giving his “victory” speech could also tell you something about these facts:

Especially for the ones who find history important, there is another reason to keep hopes up. The people of Turkey suffered a world war, but after that, not only won the independence war but also created a modern and secular state turning a broken empire into a republic. This solidarity might not have created an undiscussable democracy, but has built an important bridge towards one. Today’s solidarity created among “no” voters, including left  and right, women and LGBT, Turkish nationalists and Kurds, political and non-political people, even under these circumstances, should remind the people of Turkey of their past.

6. What should the opposition do?

When politics start to create problems instead of solutions and law does not work well, it becomes difficult to choose the right path especially for the opposition. Perhaps, this is why the main opposition party CHP was exposed to several criticisms after the referendum, even though their campaign generally was found impressive. CHP’s passive attitude comparing to the street movements and its determination to keep the struggle in the framework of appealing to courts did not meet the expectations of young people. Several CHP Youth organizations openly declaring their opposition against CHP’s attitude pulled a lot of attention in the social media. Some other statements referring to the next election or the presidential system coming from the other parties or politicians from the “no” block (HDP, Sinan Oğan, Meral Akşener, etc.) have also been criticized, but it would not be wrong to say that CHP was the main disappointment as they were some kind of a leader of the “no” campaign. So, what CHP should do here is firstly to stop using the old methods of politics -as if nothing big has changed- and then listen more to its very own youth organization.

Politicians, in general, should also question themselves: when they were silent, the civil society had already started campaigning with their modest videos and photos. They wanted to express themselves from now on, and actually, showed to be doing this better than most of the parties. Young people who voted “no” in majority did not speak the same language with these politicians. This is the moment to change the old methods of doing politics and bring humour, youth, dynamism and hope to it. If these notions look a bit abstract to you, just look at the Gezi movement to better concretize it.

One more important point to remember for the left in Turkey: we should not forget that this 49% is not only us. It is true that we created a very successful “no” block for the first time, but we should not miss the chance to better understand and to communicate because of bad analyzing. This is the moment for us to think about, stand strong with our values and show how to implement them in real life, in people’s lives.

7. What about the European socialists and social democrats?

The European idea has recently been losing its popularity among the people of Turkey. The effect of the anti-western government, certainly, cannot be underestimated here, so the European politicians’ attitude in the last 15 years. From 2002 to now, AKP incessantly violated human rights and systematically destroyed the rule of law and secularism in the country. When secularism which is the guarantee of the religious minorities’ and women’s rights was shown to be an evil, western media praised AKP’s reforms steadily. Lack of interest of the opposition parties towards Western politics cannot be sufficient to explain the absence of communication and support from the European socialists and social democrats. One example as a tragic result of the pragmatic relations between the EU and AKP brought us to a dirty bargain over humans’ lives as we have seen in the refugee deal.

We have no other option than openly discussing, creating a more efficient field of international solidarity between the socialists and social democrats of Turkey and the other European countries. Turkey’s social democrats and socialists will continue their struggle in any case, but it is Europe’s choice to follow the history being made from the media, or stand with Turkey’s progressives, as they say in one of the most popular slogans, “shoulder to shoulder, against fascism”.

(Picture by AFP Archive / Bulent Kilic)

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