In the aftermath of the referendum, a tense Turkey is in the grip of extreme unrest and uncertainty. President Tayyip Ergdon narrowly prevailed with a ‘yes’ vote of 51.4%. As a result of this historic occasion, Ergdon will gain more political power by becoming the head of the executive branch, as well as the head of state, and will retain ties to his political party.
Other reforms include scraping the role of the prime minister who will be replaced by one or, possibly, multiple vice presidents of Erdgon’s choosing. The result of the referendum makes him less accountable for his actions and the president gains the ability to dissolve parliament and issue executive decrees whenever it feels necessary. These changes will come into effect after the presidential and parliamentary elections in 2019.
Ergdon has long been promoting these sort of changes, but it was the military coup attempt last year that gave him the ammunition to follow through. According to Ergdon, if he were given more power, he would be able to respond to these types of threats more effectively and introduce laws and mechanisms that would prevent these sorts of events from occurring at all. However, many suspect that there are underlying motives for Ergdon to call such a controversial referendum.
Currently, Ergdon has frequently imprisoned journalist, and this new found power will only increase his ability to silence the media that oppose his policies. The president also wants to re-introduce the death penalty, and now, with increased power, he will be able to do so with no one to stop him. Ergdon insists that this will be an effective way to serve justice and deter future crimes, however, both citizens and international observers believe that this is just another way to silence political opposition.
While the narrow victory indicates that the majority of Turkish citizens support Ergdon and his views, it also highlights a great divide in the country, with many fearing that these constitutional changes will enable the entrenchment of a dictatorship. With that said, moments after the referendum result was announced, 1,000 protesters gathered in Istanbul to demonstrate their dissatisfaction. People were heard chanting “we will stand shoulder to shoulder against fascism” and “the no is not finished,” thereby illustrating a disturbance to peace in Turkish society.
Fellow international actors have also shared their concern about the referendum result, with the head of the delegation from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Cezar Florin Preda, sharing that “the referendum fell short of CoE standards.” According to Preda, last minute changes were made to the counting procedure, which would allow ballots that were not officially stamped and approved to be included in the vote. These inconsistencies indicate that the vote may have been corrupted, therefore, the result may not truly reflect the views of Turkish people. German Chancellor Angela Merkel was also wary of the result, and warned her fellow European leader, Ergdon, that “the tight referendum result shows how deeply divided Turkish society is, and that means a big responsibility for the Turkish leadership and for President Erdogan personally.”