IL Newswire

Turkey's Constitutional Referendum: What Happens Next?


Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan gives a referendum victory speech to his supporters at the Presidential Palace on April 17, 2017 in Ankara Turkey. Elif Sogut—Getty Images

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan gives a referendum victory speech to his supporters at the Presidential Palace on April 17, 2017 in Ankara Turkey. Elif Sogut—Getty Images

On 16 April 2017, a referendum was put forward by the Justice and Development Party and the Nationalist Movement Party to amend the Turkish constitution. The amendments pertained sections calling for the abolition of Turkey's current political system of a parliamentary democracy, replacing it with extended powers in an enlarged role for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The referendum passed with 51.4% of the vote "despite a state of emergency and a widespread crackdown on dissent" and groups in opposition to President Erdogan who "vowed to challenge the outcome". 

With the margin of victory narrow for Erdogan, it is evident to election observers that the nation of Turkey is deeply divided. This referendum comes in the aftermath of a failed coup that took place in July of 2016, which highlighted the political discord between those who support Erdogan and those who oppose him. Erdogan, in defeating the coup, sought to centralize and expand his powers to ensure such a coup would not happen again in the future. This referendum accomplishes that goal. It means that Erdogan will continue to be president of Turkey for the foreseeable future. 

The three largest cities - Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir - all voted against the referendum, while the interior rural regions of Turkey voted strongly in favor of the changes. The urban malcontent is a stark change from the support Erdogan garnered in his rise to power in the 1990s. However, now Erdogan must manage the dissent, which he can do through his expanded powers which extend the national state of emergency. The next elections are in 2019, but Erdogan may choose to move them up within the next several years to better manage opposition.

With the election on the referendum now over, several international election monitors have reported that the election may not have been fair and votes may have been manipulated by the state. Erdogan dismissed the criticism stemming from these reports. The report from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe strongly suggested that Erdogan and his supporters unfairly manipulated the election in his favor. This deepens the already-tenuous relationship between Turkey and the EU, "especially because Erdogan spent the past few months framing the referendum as 'us vs. the West'". It is looking less and less likely that Turkey will become a member of the European Union after years of a stalled bid. One of the reasons for this is Erdogan's stated desire to reinstate the death penalty in Turkey, which would almost certainly void the country's bid for E.U. citizenship. 

Turkey will have to contend with opposition in the coming months as groups seek to challenge the referendum while simultaneously fending off criticism from international groups challenging the legitimacy and fairness of the election.

For more information, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's monitoring report on the election can be found here