As the newspaper goes to print, the data flowing in from various corners of Turkey was vaguely projecting a win in the referendum, tipping a victory on the “yes” vote for the reform package.
First, it must be noted that Turkey did not experience a threatening incident, or provocation, which could have jeopardized the turnout and security of the polls. Reports from here and there were calming. This reassures us that Turkey has passed another test of “democratic maturity,” bringing society a bit closer to social stability and tolerance.
There is reason to be cautious about the outcome since the vote count primarily showed a strong presence of “yes” votes in the eastern and southeastern provinces. As I wrote my notes it looked as if, with “no” votes in the western parts somewhat balancing the overwhelming “yes” in the east, the final outcome would be around 55 percent “yes” (give or take). This prediction was based on the absence of a comprehensive vote count in İstanbul.
It should be taken as normal if the voters surprise us once more. The previous referendums showed us that the people tend to push for change, rather than act conservatively to consolidate the existing system. For years, studies and deep analysis also showed that citizens in general have had problems with various segments of the state bureaucracy and the mentality it represents. It is known that the judiciary has constantly lost credibility, as the military has recently. The demands for “normalization” have the essence of the desire of the people to be treated as real stakeholders and equals. Even the seemingly strong campaign of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and its political wing, the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), to boycott the referendum, should be seen as a statement in that direction.
The stronger the yes, the more powerful its consequences will be. If the percentage is closer to 60 percent, a turmoil should be expected within the opposition, particularly in the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), but also in the Republican People’s Party (CHP). While the supporters of the MHP will ask “why did we so fiercely support a no?,” the new leadership of the CHP will possibly be confronted with the inquiry on “what went wrong with our campaign?.”
The debate expected there will expose the misreading of social currents and the inability to develop credible political programs.
This will mark the third big defeat for the adversaries of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party). First, the old style opposition had to leave the stage, humiliated, in 2002. Second, the remnants of the so-called center-right – the Motherland Party (ANAP) and the True Path Party (DYP) -- had to disappear in 2007, due to miscalculations that the military would “teach a severe lesson” to the AK Party. This seems to be the third blow, and it will either minimize the size of the opposition to varying degrees, or force them to change internally.
It is harder to predict how the outcome will effect the Kurdish politics. Because it not only depends on the Kurdish dynamics themselves, but also how the ruling AK Part will interpret the result of the referendum and whether it will reassert a decisive reform policy on the demands of Kurds.
Finally, this must be said: the referendum was a test as a vote of confidence for the AK Party, and a dress rehearsal for the upcoming presidential elections (due in 2012). Erdoğan was aware of this and wanted to have the test; he has had his self-esteem reassured. It will be up to him to carry Turkey further and it will be even more exciting whether he expands his democratic agenda – or narrows it.