When we talked on Friday about the pending Turkish referendum vote I expressed considerable skepticism over whether or not a fair and open vote could be held or if opposition to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s demands would surface in public. The vote took place yesterday and the results were, in a limited way, something of a pleasant surprise. Nearly half of the ballots were cast against the referendum, showing far more public resistance than I’d anticipated. Unfortunately, the key phrase there was “nearly half” and the official count as touted by Erdogan’s regime still put him over the top. (NY Times)
A slim majority of Turkish voters agreed on Sunday to grant sweeping powers to their president, in a watershed moment that the country’s opposition fears may cement a system of authoritarian rule within one of the critical power brokers of the Middle East.
With nearly 99 percent of votes in a referendum counted on Sunday night, supporters of the proposal had 51.3 percent of votes cast, and opponents had 48.7 percent, the country’s electoral commission announced.
So how much of an actual “victory” was it for Erdogan? We may never know. The opposition, particularly among the Kurdish groups, was hurling charges of voter fraud before the counting had even begun. On the one hand, we can admit that this happens all the time around the world. (It’s not like we don’t see it here in the United States, after all.) But they were pointing out some rather sketchy incidents which the ruling party didn’t even deny. For one thing, a significant number of ballots showed up which did not have the official government stamp on them. While administrative snafus are always possible, this obviously raised questions of whether the ballots were legitimate. They will be calling for a recount and investigation, but Erdogan’s administration is already brushing the charges aside. (NY Daily News)
The head of Turkey’s electoral board has rejected suggestions of fraud in Turkey’s referendum that will grant the president vast new powers.
Two opposition parties have complained of a number of irregularities in Sunday’s vote, including an electoral board decision to accept as valid ballots that did not bear the official stamp.
Assuming the “decision of the voters” is allowed to stand, the new government structure would be in place after the 2019 elections. Some key executive offices will be done away with and the President will essentially be able to overrule any legislative decisions. Erdogan would be immediately eligible to serve two five year terms, but with the “reforms” he has demanded already in place there is little reason to suspect that he couldn’t just change the deal yet again in Darth Vader style.
But that really doesn’t change the day to day reality we see in Turkey right now. This wasn’t a referendum calling for a new government structure which would need to be built from the ground up over the next two years. It’s simply a public confirmation of precisely what Erdogan is already doing. He has largely absorbed the power of the legislature and has been ruling under “emergency powers” ever since last summer’s attempted coup. In other words, the vote would just cement in place the current situation.
As Saagar Enjeti at the Daily Caller pointed out last night, this new, official paradigm in Turkey will now complicate the foreign policy situation for the United States and our allies, particularly when it comes to combating ISIS.
Erdogan’s broader powers may mean the U.S. will have to grant concessions in its strategy to the government. These concessions may include a bigger Turkish role in operations to recapture ISIS’s capital of Raqqa.
Turkey is also home to millions of Syrian refugee’s that are being held back by the government from emigrating to the European Union. Erdogan’s increased power would grant him even more leverage over EU policies, by allowing him to threaten to open the refugee floodgate on the European continent.
As I said on Friday, the rest of the world is (at least for now) relegated to the role of basically sitting on the sidelines and watching. Having the trappings of a public referendum applied to Erdogan’s power grab makes it seem all the more legitimate. And even though he has locked up his opponents by the tens of thousands, it’s all being done under the umbrella of law enforcement and an effort to fight terrorism. Honestly, there’s little to be done at this point and nobody is interested in full scale military intervention in a nation which is still ostensibly one of our allies.
Turkey’s once flourishing democracy is, at this point, pretty much a thing of the past. It’s a sad day, but there will likely be far darker ones to come.