Analysis: The following day of the referendum – Erdogan’s new Turkey

Analysis: The following day of the referendum – Erdogan’s new Turkey


On the pedestrian street of Pera, the most commercial street of Istanbul, dozens of shops have closed. The same is true in the closed market, where hundreds of tourist shops have closed their shutters. Political analysts say the economy will judge the future of President Tayyip Erdogan, regardless of the new sweeping powers he now has. Proof of the people’s displeasure with the recessionary situation in the Turkish economy is the result of the referendum in Turkey’s western and southern provinces, which account for 68% of the country’s GDP. All these regions refused to give a green light to Erdogan and massively voted No in the referendum which Erdogan called the first step to improve the political and economic situation. Erdogan has a difficult equation to solve: Unemployment is up to 14% and GDP growth in 2017 will fall below 3%. The turning to the US and Britain which Erdogan is attempting is no coincidence following the isolationist rhetoric he chose in order to attract nationalist votes.

The strategy of the Turkish president will unfold on two levels – the internal where he will try to reduce the polarization he himself created with the talk of “internal terrorists”; and abroad by improving his relations with Washington while preserving good communication with Russia.

The referendum took place in Turkey under a state of emergency and with many persecutions being carried out. The marginal Yes to reform with 51.4% of the vote strengthened the divisiveness that appears to be consolidated now across the country. It has now become clear that almost half of the Turkish people disagree with the President’s sweeping powers and the “New Turkey” he wants to build shaping the constitution into a purely presidential one. With the reform of the Constitution adopted by the Turkish people, some articles can immediately be enforced without the need for an election. One of these is the president’s relationship with political parties. Previously, the president could not have anything to do with political parties, and now he could become a member of the AKP. In his party, however, it is said that Erdogan will not return as a simple member. He will convene a conference so that he is elected AKP president and run in the 2019 election. Also with the constitutional reform, the appointments of judges by the President will begin; a development which sparks a debate about the independence of the judiciary.

“The results of the referendum show a serious problem in big cities. Former Prime Minister Turgut Ozal began losing his political power when he lost the big cities in 1989, and then the rise of the Islamic movement began. Results in major cities were seen as a warning to the AKP. They are now looking for the reasons and the political attitude that will satisfy the educated and those living in major cities” says Abdülkadir Selvi, a political analyst of Hurriyet newspaper.

Relations with the EU, USA and Russia

The congratulatory phone calls Erdogan received immediately following the referendum may show in which way he wishes to lead Turkey. First to congratulate him was Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev, immediately followed by US President Donald Trump. For the former there is not much to analyze as there is a close relationship between Turkey and Azerbaijan. As for President Trump’s phone call though, much has been said lately as US-Turkey relations have not been good until recently. There is a clear rapprochement between the two countries – as Erdogan’s congratulatory message on the missile attack in Syria had come first. The Turkish president wants the US to be its ally in developments in Syria and Iraq and to convince Washington not to establish a Kurdish state. Ankara wants to maintain its alliance with Russia, but finds that the Trump administration wants he US’s strong involvement in the Middle East and Erdogan is keen to stay ahead of developments. “Obama misled us. We will now improve our relations with the US, “Erdogan told the Al Jazeera television network. It is no coincidence that after the referendum, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spoke to his Turkish counterpart by phone and arranged a meeting between Trump and Erdogan in May at the NATO summit.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s phone call to the Turkish president came two days later and was carried out amid a colder climate than previous months. The Russian President sees that is beginning to focus on improving relations with the US and the “satellite” countries of Washington. The Turkish president is reportedly realizing that the desired foreign investment can come directly from this block, rather than from the EU countries who hold elections this year and don’t make decisions immediately. The approach with Britain was sealed during Teresa May’s visit to Ankara last month and the agreement signed on the co-operation of defense industries.

He has broken his relations with the EU and this was reflected in the comments of European leaders who cautioned Erdgoan, as well as those of European media which spoke of “absolutism”. Angela Merkel did not call Erdogan to congratulate him after the referendum. “She may feel remorse for what she has done,” Erdogan told Al Jazeera.

The political crisis with the Netherlands and Germany has benefited Erdogan in terms of votes gained in the referendum and he has continued his strong rhetoric after the referendum too. He is also well aware that the millions of Turks living in Germany and France are a powerful weapon in these countries’ elections and is believed to be taking advantage of it. Erdogan is raising tones towards the EU and it is clear that the Ankara-Brussels relations will become more complex and difficult.

In his speech after the referendum triumph the President mentioned that he will reinstate the death penalty, a “red line” for Brussels. “If it is not approved by Parliament then we will go to a referendum,” he said referring to the death penalty. He also “warned” Europe he will call a referendum on Turkey’s EU accession course. “We will hold a referendum in order for the people to decide what to do with Europe.”

The anatomy of the vote

Housewives handed the election victory to Erdogan. With an impressive 65%, they said “yes” to the presidential dreams of the Turkish president, while employed women said “no” by 52%.

The generation born and raised during the governance of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) opposes Erdogan’s plans. Pensioners voted in large numbers in favor of the Turkish President, handing him the election victory last Sunday.

According to a poll by Ipsos and its CEO, Sidar Gedik who correctly forecast the result of the Turkish referendum, those aged 18-24 voted No by 54% (with the overall No vote on 48.6%).

Citizens with university education said No by 61%. Erdogan won the votes of the lower social classes. Primary school graduates voted “Yes” by 70%, while those in high school by 57%.

It is striking that young people who voted for the first time in elections, i.e. those aged 18-19 years voted No by 59%. Election analysts point out that despite the government’s control of education, Turkey’s youth are resisting the AKP’s conservatism. The Turkish President’s promise that even those as young as 18 could run for office did not convince the country’s young people. However, victory appears to have been handed to Erdogan by citizens aged over 65 among which Yes took 59 of the vote. Pension increases and more health benefits as well as the “grandmother’s allowance” he paid out were all fruitful./ΙΒΝΑ

Photo: REUTERS/Umit Bektas