Erdoğan has won his vote—he could still lose the peopleby Laura Pitel / May 16, 2017 / Leave a comment
There is a photograph from the night of 16th April that casts Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s president, in an unusual light. Peering from behind a curtain, he looks out at the lectern where he must address the nation after his shaky win in that day’s historic referendum. He looks lonely and scared.
The Turkish leader has plenty to worry about. The referendum result gave the green light for a radical set of changes to the nation’s system of governance and makes him more powerful. But his narrow victory gives cause for deep anxiety, for Turks and the country’s international partners.
The referendum campaign took place under extraordinary conditions. Conducted under a state of emergency imposed after last summer’s coup attempt, opposition campaigners were frequently banned from holding rallies. Media devoted vastly more coverage to the president than his rivals. The two leaders of a leftist party popular among Kurdish voters were behind bars for the duration of the campaign. And the president compared “No” voters to terrorists.
Despite these conditions, the official result for Erdoğan’s “Yes” camp was just 51.4 per cent. Post-election analysis has suggested that he was abandoned by around a tenth of his own voters and as many as 80 per cent of nationalist voters who he had hoped to convince. Even his narrow victory may not have been won fairly. The opposition has raised concerns about widespread fraud.
That slim victory is a long way short of Erdoğan’s target. During the campaign he had said he hoped for 60 per cent support. It was assumed both inside and outside the ruling party that, after the result, he would call an election to implement the constitutional changes immediately. Instead, he was forced to announce that he would wait until 2019. “We lost three big cities,” said one ruling party insider, referring to Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir, all of which backed “No.” “If we held an early election, we would lose.”
Erdoğan was not humbled by his close shave and immediately extended the state of emergency. Would-be protesters were sent a clear message when three dozen demonstrators were rounded up at home in dawn raids. The authorities banned Wikipedia. Then came more arrests and dismissals of suspects linked to the failed putsch,…