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Henry M. Robert

Erdogan: with 2019 in mind

How will the constitutional referendum results influence Kyiv-Ankara relations and Turkey itself?
20 April, 2017 - 10:46
REUTERS photo

The results of the constitutional referendum held to strengthen powers of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in which a majority of citizens (51.2 percent) voted in favor of the amendments, have provoked a mixed reaction in the world.

On the one hand, the European Commission called on the Turkish authorities in a statement to “seek the broadest possible national consensus” when implementing the reforms. French President Francois Hollande, in particular, noted the deep divisions existing between residents of Turkey over the planned reforms.

On the other hand, US President Donald Trump congratulated the head of the Turkish state on winning the vote and thanked him for his support of US actions in Syria.

Meanwhile, based on independent monitors’ observations, the OSCE noted in its report that the vote did not meet the standards of the Council of Europe. The document also says that the voters did not receive unbiased information about the main aspects of the reform. Besides, curtailment of fundamental freedoms and the fact that during the campaign, opponents and supporters of the amendment did not receive equal access to the media and campaigning opportunities also had a negative effect.

Observer of the Council of Europe and member of the Austrian parliament Alev Korun said that “there is a suspicion that 2.5 million votes could have been manipulated.”

In turn, the Turkish Foreign Ministry called the OSCE and the Council of Europe’s joint report on the referendum on strengthening presidential powers “unacceptable” and accused observers of being biased.

President Erdogan said at a rally in Ankara that his country “does not see, hear or acknowledge the politically motivated reports” delivered by the monitors.

Quite unexpectedly for many experts, a majority of Turkish citizens living in Europe voted in favor of amendments to the constitution and expanding the powers of the president of Turkey. For example, 75 percent of Turkish voters living in Belgium said “yes” to the changes, as did 73 percent in Austria, 63 percent in Germany, 71 percent in the Netherlands, 65 percent in France, and 60 percent in Denmark.

Analyzing the results of the vote, most observers and experts have concluded that Turkey has become more divided than ever.

The Day asked executive director of the Center for Middle East Studies Ihor SEMYVOLOS to comment on the results, unexpected for the initiators of the referendum themselves, a small gap between supporters and opponents of new presidential powers, and explain why most Turks living in old Europe voted in favor of them.

INCREASED UNCERTAINTY

“Results of the referendum in Turkey can be called a Pyrrhic victory for Erdogan. On the one hand, he won (I set aside for now all allegations of rigging, although there is a lot to ponder here), but on the other, he lost in key large cities, and it sends him quite a serious signal, given that up to this point, he won in the first round, at least in the latest presidential election. The results of the referendum show it will be much harder to repeat for him now.

“Moreover, the election to be held in 2019 can be a hard time at the very least for Turkey, as the stakes have risen significantly. While the presidency was not that attractive before, it is obvious that it will be the sole ruler position in 2019, and therefore, it automatically raises the risk of violent conflicts over the office, and the political process can turn violent.

“For Erdogan, despite the fact that he has obtained what he asked for, a serious problem and a question is coming forward: how will he implement over the two years the promises with which he went to the referendum, namely to ensure prosperity for the Turkish people, given the economic crisis, continuing war around Turkey, a rather complicated domestic political situation, and war on terror? I am not seeing any signs of Turkey emerging from the crisis in which it has found itself, for reasons including Erdogan’s policies.

“So it seems that in fact, the ruling party and Erdogan himself, have created a big problem for themselves come 2019. Perhaps they wanted to avoid or overcome the state of uncertainty which existed in Turkey in recent years, but it seems that they have increased uncertainty even further and raised the stakes.”

WHY TURKS LIVING IN THE OLD EUROPEAN COUNTRIES VOTED “YES” IN THE REFERENDUM

“On the one hand, the conflict between Erdogan and European politicians, which we have witnessed lately, is perceived by a significant number of Turkish citizens living in Europe as a personal betrayal because Erdogan has managed to spin the situation this way.

“In addition, there are some details that are difficult to test empirically, but a significant number of people living in Europe as migrant labor come from the provinces which mostly voted for Erdogan.

“In addition, because these people do not live in Turkey and the results of this referendum will not immediately affect their lives, it could be a tribute to the tradition instead of a rational calculation we have seen done by people living in Turkey’s large cities.

“Now to the Turkish leader’s reaction to the criticism from the OSCE. We have all seen how the Central Election Commission acted, including when it agreed to accept unsealed envelopes and changed the rules during the game. Of course, the OSCE could have reached no other conclusion. Erdogan is not ready to accept biting criticisms, apparently relying on the proverb that ‘the moon does not heed the barking of dogs.’ I think this is his vision of the future, and he put too much effort into winning this referendum to act otherwise. So it is clear that he will not pay any attention, or at least publicly ignore these criticisms.”

“ERDOGAN’S CHANCES OF WINNING IN 2019 ARE GOOD ENOUGH”

“I do not know what Turkey will look like in two years, because a lot will depend on whether Erdogan will be able to show that his ideas about a single-man regime yielded some positive real results in the form of money, business development, economic recovery etc.

“If the current stagnation continues, it seems to me that Erdogan will find it difficult to explain to voters his position, and the coming election might ultimately become a very serious confrontation. The problem is that the winner will get all, so the game’s stakes will be very high.

“In the ranks of the opposition and critics of Erdogan, I do not see any figure so far that could offer a real alternative, and such a figure is unlikely to appear in two years. Thus, Erdogan’s chances of winning in 2019 are good enough. But if he does not win in the first round, the situation will only continue to deteriorate for Erdogan, and his era will be over long before many of his supporters and experts forecast (they believe that Erdogan will rule Turkey through 2029).”

“OUR RELATIONS WITH TURKEY ARE BASED ON PRAGMATISM”

“As for Ukraine, I think that our relations with Turkey are based on rather serious pragmatic considerations, we are able to pay more attention to economic background, we see economic development as most important, we traditionally do not make comments on internal affairs, and it looks like Ukraine will not be ready to make any such statements now as well.

“Since Erdogan remains the main key foreign policy player, nothing will change for us, most likely.”

By Natalia PUSHKARUK

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