On Sunday, April 16th, the nation of Turkey was brought to a halt as the result of a momentous referendum was revealed. Millions of people anxiously waited in public squares, witnessing a critical turning-point of Turkish politics. Even before all the ballots had been counted, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the president, stood before a group of supporters in Istanbul, proclaiming “My nation stood upright and undivided” and “April 16th was a victory for all of Turkey.”
The vote was a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ ballot, addressing the Erdogan’s plan of changing the Turkish constitution from a parliamentary to a presidential system. This radical overhaul of the state would abolish the office of Prime Minister, giving virtually unchecked power to the president, who would head the executive branch of the government and be the head of state. He would rule uncontested, appointing senior officials, judges and members of his own cabinet, with little oversight by an expanded but weakened parliament.
On Election Day, the results showed a close divide, with voters approving of the constitutional amendments leading 51.3% to 48.7%. This means that a vital component of the Turkish system of government, will be completely overturned in 2019, by the time of the next elections.
However, the referendum is already entangled in controversy. There have been strong objections from many sides of the parliament, the loudest being from the main opposition, the Republican People’s Party (CHP). Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the CHP, has asked for the referendum results’ annulation.
A concern that many have is that the voting was not entirely free or fair. Throughout the campaign, Erdogan supporters tore down ‘No’ banners and actively disrupted opposition rallies. In addition, Erdogan may have used conspiracy theories about the opposition to gain support. In the days before the voting, he claimed that the opposition campaign had secretive contact with the July, 2016, coup leaders on the night of the attempted takeover—an unsubstantiated claim that the opposition denied.
The country’s High Commission on Elections (YSK) is also being questioned due to its decision to count voting cards without an official stamp of approval as valid—instigating easy ballot stuffing, voter fraud, and corruption. However, the exact percentage of unstamped voting cards may never be known since the government probably won’t contest the results. In contrast, there are strong supporters of Erdogan’s party, the AKP, who have felt a sense of joy at the result of the referendum.
Overall, although a slight majority of the citizens seem to have supported the changes for Turkey in the upcoming years, at least half of the country condemns president’s actions. In the wake of such a contentious election, the Turkish people walk more divided than ever.