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Turkish Referendum: Divided We Stand

Turkish Referendum: Divided We Stand

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The outcome of the September 12 referendum reflects Turkey’s deeply divided politics, with the conservative and highly religious voters on one side of the divide, and the more secular and modern voters on the other. Turkey has entered a new phase of the campaign for the 2011 elections in which the country’s democratic culture will be fiercely debated and eventually voted upon in an environment dominated by intense conflict between two distinct cultural camps.
The outcome of the September 12 referendum reflects Turkey’s deeply divided politics, with the conservative and highly religious voters on one side of the divide, and the more secular and modern voters on the other. Turkey has entered a new phase of the campaign for the 2011 elections in which the country’s democratic culture will be fiercely debated and eventually voted upon in an environment dominated by intense conflict between two distinct cultural camps.

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: German Marshall Fund of the United States on Sep 17, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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The outcome of theSeptember 12 referendum
reects Turkey’s deeply dividedpolitics, with the conservativeand highly religious voters on oneside of the divide, and the moresecular and modern voters on the other. The result means that the leaders of the last militarycoup can be tried, new appoint
ments on the High Courts willperpetuate struggles between the government and the opposi
 tion, and the AKP can once againvoice the possibility of a changefrom parliamentary democracy to a presidential system. This isperceived in the secularist campas the AKP’s attempt to establishan elected sultan. The ideas theparty seems to be toying with donot bode well for the prospects of either a form of elite consensusor convergence over the natureof democracy in Turkey. Turkeyhas entered a new phase of  the campaign for the 2011elections in which the coun
 try’s democratic culture will beercely debated and eventuallyvoted upon in an environmentdominated by intense conictbetween two distinct culturalcamps. A familiar pattern of crisissurrounding the legitimacy of  the constitution will continue toresurface periodically, as it hassince 1961. Only now the twosides will be reversed.
Now that another reerendum onchanges to urkey’s constitution haspassed on September 12, 2010, twobasic questions about urkish politicsseem worthy o attention. First, whatis the political outcome o the reer-endum o 2010? Second, what willhappen in urkey now? Tis paperaddresses briey these two questionsin the ollowing pages.
The Outcome of the Referendum
Te reerendum o September 12, 2010was a resounding victory or all thosebehind the “Yes” campaign, namely theruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), the political Islamist Felicity Party (SP), the ultra-urkish nation-alist and Islamist National Unity Party (BBP), the political Islamist Kurds,and the political Islamist movement(Islamcılık Cereyanı) in general. Itis similarly a letdown or the “Nocampaign headed by the RepublicanPeople’s Party (CHP) and the Nation-alist Action Party (MHP). Te Kurdishnationalist Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), which campaigned ora boycott, seemed to be successul insome provinces, such as Diyarbakır,Hakkari, and Şırnak, but ailed inBingöl, Bitlis, and Elazığ in the south-east. Te results have boosted the
 Turkish Referendum: Divided We Stand
Ersin Kalaycıoğlu
September 17, 2010
, DC
morale o the AKP leadership and itssupporters and similarly ailed to helpthe political career o the new leadero the CHP, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. Pastreerendum results have not neces-sarily demonstrated an associationwith the outcome o the general elec-tions that ollowed them. Tereore,drawing ar-reaching conclusionsabout the approaching 2011 generalelections rom the reerendum resultsshould be avoided.Te cartographic image o the reer-endum results presented on thewebsite NVMSNBC.com.tr revealsthe main characteristic o the vote: apicture o the West versus the Rest.Te voters o the northwestern (Tra-cian) provinces overwhelmingly voted“No,” while the mostly Kurdish voterso the southeastern region o urkey  voted overwhelmingly “Yes” in spiteo the calls or a boycott by the BDP.Te northwestern and the south-eastern parts o the country seemed tobe diametrically opposed and worldsapart rom each other in their interpre-tations o what the reerendum stoodor. In general, all o the provincesalong the Aegean and Mediterraneancoasts also had a majority o votersrejecting the constitutional amend-ments, while the provinces in the Black 
Sea coast, central Anatolia, and the east seemed to have themajority o voters supporting it. Te eastern city o unceli,the birthplace o Kılıçdaroğlu, had a huge majority o  voters who rejected the amendments as well. Te majority o voters in Eskişehir, one o the most industrialized andmodern towns o central Anatolia, and neighboring Bilecik also rejected the constitutional amendments. Among theour most populous provinces o urkey most voters inIstanbul and Ankara supported the amendments, whereasmost voters in Izmir and Adana turned them down.Te outcome reects urkey’s deeply divided politics, withthe traditional, conservative, and highly religious voterso Sunni central Anatolia, the Black Sea, and the Kurdishregions on one side o the divide, and the more secular andmodern inhabitants o the country in the Tracian, Aegean,and Mediterranean provinces on the other. Te reerendumseems to have helped reinvigorate the
betweenthose who believe in an image o a society built aroundsecular, scientic, and modern values and liestyles versusthose who believe in a counter-image o a society builtaround tradition, Sunni Islam, and conservative values andliestyles. Te 42-58 percent vote would indeed representthe relative sizes o the secularist and conservative culturalcamps in urkey.
 Te overall outcome has not created a general eeling o democratization but rather one o reinorcing the ongoingkulturkamp between the orces aligned with the govern-ment and those backing the opposition. It is a conrontationrather than a compromise over the image o urkish society.Te government was extremely successul in mobilizingand uniting its traditionally-minded, conservative, Islamistsupporters, and the opposition was likewise successulin mobilizing the opposite secular, scientically-minded,modernist camp through its campaigns. Both sides appearto have ailed to reach out to the other camp. Tereore,the outcome is best interpreted as the victory o one sideand the loss o the other, which indicates that the vote was
We have no reliable data that can help us examine the impact of the campaigns of thewarring “Yes” and “No” camps in the referendum campaign. The opposition campaignedby pointing to the corruption of the government, the racism of Prime Minister R. TayyipErdoğan and his associates, and indictments against the PM and other AKP deputies,which cannot be put forward as a motion in the Grand National Assembly due to thescope of the parliamentary immunities that protect them. The AKP not only tried to reup anti-military, anti-state, and anti-establishment emotions and tout the democratizing inuences of the proposed amendments, but also provided huge handouts to relativelypoor neighborhoods across the country and leveled threats against those interest groups that did not campaign for the “Yes” vote.
not about rallying around democratic sentiments in thecountry. Te evolving constitution still seems to be repre-sentative o one image o an ideal society, not a nationalcompromise on a democratic constitution that both sideso the cultural divide can agree upon. Te opportunity ora genuine national compromise on the kind o democracthat urkey should have has once again been squandered.Instead, a majoritarian solution to democratic consolida-tion seems to have been promoted. Such a style and strategy does not address the many problems o democratic consoli-dation, but only postpones them.
What Lies Ahead?
Te immediate outcome o the reerendum will be soulsearching within the CHP and MHP party organizations.Te result o the reerendum means that the leaders o themilitary coup o September 12, 1980 will be interrogated, adebate about the legal procedure to be ollowed will occupy the agenda, and the coup leaders may even be tried eventu-ally. New appointments on the High Courts o the country will create new controversies, debates, and clashes betweenthe government and the opposition. Te AKP will pushor a campaign on a new constitution. Te ideas the party seems to be toying with do not bode well or the prospectso either a orm o elite consensus or convergence over thenature o democracy in urkey. Te PM has once againbegun to voice the possibility o a change rom parliamen-tary democracy to a presidential system. Tis is perceivedin the secularist camp as the AKP’s attempt to establishan elected sultan, and thus sow the seeds o a version o Russian Putinism on urkish soil. Te AKP may calculatethat it can sell this idea both to the United States, whichit considers a strategic partner, and to its Islamist camp,
The opportunity for a genuinenational compromise on thekind of democracy that Turkeyshould have has once again beensquandered.

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