Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan breathed a huge sign of relief last Sunday night: his constitutional referendum resulted in a short lead for the “Yes” vote with 51,41% – this narrow victory is already contested by opponents to the reform.
This popular consultation appears as a decisive step for Turkey’s future, but also for the European Union, which is both torn and powerless when facing Erdogan’s totalitarian actions. What could be the consequences of this constitutional referendum? Here are the main outcomes that can be foreseen or feared for Turkey and its surroudings.
Turkey organised this referendum further to the putsch that nearly overthrown Erdogan in July 2016; since then, the State became more repressive and organized multiple purges against teachers, soldiers or activists who were accused of having taking part to the aborted coup. Erdogan’s despotic attitude went more extreme over the months: granting him more power was introduced as the most viable position in order to protect the country against inside and outside enemies.
The first consequence of this referendum will, of course, be massive changes on the institutional plan: the executive power will be possessed by President Erdogan only, since the Prime Minister position will disappear. Erdogan’s supporters claim that this concentration of power is essential in order to strengthen the executive power and establish a clear distinction between it and legislative and judicial powers; the opposition denounces an absence of counter-power, which may lead to abuses.
Another important point: Erdogan will be able to remain in power until 2029 – presidential mandates will be limited to two of 5 years, but since the law will be enforced in 2019, Erdogan’s previous mandates won’t count and will enable him to be re-elected twice.
This spurt of authority could incite Turkey to lead an offensive against the Kurds in Iraq: the south eastern part of Turkey is in the grip of violent confrontations between separatist Kurds, perceived as terrorists by Turkey, and Turkish authorities. Even though international observers are trying to be optimistic on that point, stating that Erdogan may be more obliging on this complex question, media close to central authorities assert that an attack is being prepared. This could increase tensions in the Middle East, which is already affected by the Syrian powder keg.
Another major change will concern relationship with the European Union (E.U.): Turkey is trying to enter the organisation since 2005, but its potential membership remains controversial, both for geographic and legal reasons. The pressure, which was already strong due to the migration crisis, grew over the last few weeks: meetings that promoted the referendum to Turkish diasporas in European countries were cancelled by Dutch and German authorities – Erdogan accused Germany of using “Nazi practices”, words that nearly triggered a diplomatic incident –.
Presidency evoked it could re-establish death penalty: this would bring Turkey’s membership to a complete and definitive halt since every member or would-be member of the E.U. has to abolish it.
Weeks following the consultation may also be a time of reconciliation and gathering for the Turkish people: President Erdogan will seek to federate a truly divided population, by delivering appeasing speeches.
2017 constitutional referendum: in green, areas that mostly voted “Yes”; in red, areas that mostly voted “No”.
© Nub Cake, via Wikicommons.
This appears as a tricky manoeuvre in a country that was already split by growing tensions since summer 2016, and which appears to be even more divided since the consultation’s result came out. As seen on the map, people living in the Western part of the country – we may infer citizens who live closest to European countries – voted “No”, just like the south-eastern part of Turkey, where Kurds are strongly present.
Official results will be known in about a week, but President Erdogan is already preparing the reform, to international community’s disarray for it is aware of one thing: Turkey has certainly started his ascent towards dictatorship.
Featured image: President Erdogan supporters unfolding the national flag of Turkey after coup demonstrations in Istanbul, Turkey – July, 20th 2016. © Mstyslav Chernov, via Wikicommons.