A yes and no victory for Erdogan

A yes and no victory for Erdogan, Israel Hayom, Boaz Bismuth, April 18, 2017

The “Yes” camp won Turkey’s national referendum. “Camp,” because Recep Tayyip Erdogan is not just a president/dictator/sultan, but because his obedient supporters always grant the leader the desired majority, even if only by a slim margin. Erdogan’s victory, however, which gives him a presidency with the authority of a sultan (sans constitutional restraints), paradoxically displayed his limitations. If he wants to remain in power for many more years (until 2029), he will have to reinvent himself, because his opposition also appears to be quite large. Therefore, both camps can see the election result from the other direction: “Yes and No,” remember?

We can, of course, discuss the “Yes” camp’s miniscule margin of victory until we’re blue in the face, along with the forgeries, the appeals, the fact that Turkey is splintered in two and the danger Erdogan poses to democracy — but that is nothing new. After all, Erdogan “only” received 51.7% of the vote in the presidential elections, and his Justice and Development Party won 49.5% of the parliamentary votes in November 2015 — which distinctly indicates a trend.

This time, too, the numbers should come as no surprise. Erdogan will always manage to secure the tiniest of majorities for any “holy” goal he wants to sell to his people. Such was the case this week. While he sought 60% of the votes and the opposition hoped his scheme would fail, anyone following developments in Turkey knows perfectly well that if Erdogan wakes up tomorrow morning and declares the sun is green and the stars are square, at least 50.01% of the population will say “amen.” This could be the greatest political victory for the man who wishes to never resign.

Turkey said “yes” to changing its system of government. This means the country will move toward a presidential regime similar to the one in the United States, only without the checks and balances provided by the justice system, the legislative branch, the police and the media. Everyone will be subject to the sultan’s authority. They say people today yearn for the good old days? Erdogan is making dreams come true.

On the other hand, we must remember that Erdogan wanted a resounding majority, even if he knew it would be hard to achieve.

The attempted coup against him last year undermined his self-confidence and personal safety, but not his ambitions. To the very end he had to wage a serious campaign, which included considerable efforts in hostile Kurdish areas. Surprising support from the far-right Nationalist Movement Party, citing patriotic motivations, still wasn’t enough to assure him the victory.

A nose for the street

Erdogan, a political animal, has a nose for the street. He knew the Kurds and Kemalists were against him, as was the climate in the large cities. In Ankara, Istanbul, Izmir and Antalya — he lost.

But he won in those distant, rural places where journalists and pundits do not go — “deep Turkey.” In those places, where Erdogan holds sway, people vote from the gut and from the mosque. While he perhaps goes to elections with an eye toward the past, the voters go to the voting stations looking to the future. For the sultan, this is food for thought.

Naturally, many people are now positing an unlawful referendum; unstamped ballots that were counted; a threatening pre-election atmosphere; country-wide states of emergency; and last summer’s failed coup as factors that influenced the final outcome of the vote. A “No” vote is considered as a type of religious affront at best; at worst as belonging to the terrorist network headed by the exiled Fethullah Gulen; or, heaven forbid, as sympathetic to Islamic State. Erdogan sold the referendum more or less in the following way: “Yes” means stability, “No” means sympathy for terror. And yet, almost half the population voted “No.”

Now the question remains: What does the referendum result mean, if the appeals fail? Erdogan will take an increasingly harsher tone. He will expand his authoritarian powers, but this time he will do so within the law. After defeating the press, the police, the army and the legal system, the time has come to change the government system. The prime minister will be become a relic of history, while President Erdogan enters the pantheon, living and breathing and at the height of his rule.

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