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Turkey: constitutional referendum result a pyrrhic victory for Erdogan
Statement by Sosyalist Alternatif (CWI Turkey)
On Sunday 16 April, Turkey went through the most controversial and questionable referendum in its history. Officially the 'Yes' side narrowly won with 51% of the vote, giving President Recep Erdogan dictatorial powers including the authority to dissolve parliament. Erdogan was seeking these powers in order to keep himself in office.
The referendum was conducted in a grossly undemocratic manner. After an unsuccessful military coup in July 2016, hundreds of thousands of employees, including high-ranked soldiers, judges, prosecutors, police officers and academics, were - and still are - sacked from their posts, and many journalists, political activists, trade unionists and even some MPs were jailed.
State pressure and intimidation marked the run-up to the referendum. It took place under a state of emergency and Erdogan and his lapdogs did their best to suppress the 'No' campaigns.
Campaigners for No were physically attacked and detained by the police. Erdogan and his allies hysterically condemned the No camp as "traitors", "dividers" and "terrorists". And the No campaigns were largely ignored by the mainly pro-regime media.
But while the No campaigns were suppressed, the Yes campaigns were, in effect, conducted by the state itself. All kinds of state resources - billboards, media, state budgets, police force, etc - were used for this purpose.
While the MPs of the People's Democratic Party (HDP) - a pro-Kurdish left party which was the only political organisation to organise a No campaign in northern Kurdistan - were locked up in jail, speeches by officials of the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) were broadcast live during prime time evening news.
Yet, all of these measures were not enough for the Yes camp. On the day the referendum took place, the High Court of Elections announced that it was going to recognise unstamped ballots for the outcome of the referendum.
This is a clear violation of the law regarding electoral procedures, and an undeniable indicator of fraud. Allegedly, 1.5 million un-stamped votes were taken into account and, if true, it is safe to say that the referendum was rigged. No wonder Erdogan thanked the High Court for its decision during his speech in the aftermath of the vote.
Despite the atmosphere of a dictatorship, half of the country voted against Erdogan's will. This is a clear expression of their anger at him and his regime, including from some traditional conservative AKP voters.
In Turkey's three biggest cities, Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir, a majority voted No. This is all the more significant since in both Istanbul and Ankara the AKP won previous elections. The loss of the two biggest cities of Turkey is a big disadvantage for Erdogan ahead of local elections in 2018.
The situation among Kurdish voters was another important factor in the outcome of the vote. That is why Erdogan targeted and paralysed the HDP at the beginning of the electoral campaign.
At the beginning of the electoral campaign, the HDP MPs, including the co-chairs, were detained; many HDP members in northern Kurdistan were taken into custody, and many local HDP mayors were removed from their posts on trumped-up terrorism charges.
By means of this referendum, Turkey's de facto (in effect) dictatorship has turned into a de jure (in law) one. But under the veneer of victory, these results confirm that Erdogan is losing social support, and that a subterranean anger has penetrated deeper in society.
In places like Istanbul, Northern Cyprus and other areas, spontaneous demonstrations burst out on the very evening of the referendum, an encouraging sign that a layer of society will not tolerate the descent into a dictatorship without a fightback.
These are the seeds of what needs to become a mass resistance against the regime's enforcement of the new constitutional changes. Such resistance needs to be organised to immediate effect, and must also reach out to Yes voters among the poor, young people and workers.
The economic situation is worsening fast, and the reinforcement of authoritarian measures is aimed at helping the regime to crush the growing dissatisfaction and potential explosions of class anger.
In such a period, the 'social democrat' opposition of the Republican People's Party (CHP) represents no genuine alternative. Although this party opposes Erdogan and campaigned for a No vote, it is a nationalist party defending an economic programme very similar to the AKP, based on the continuation of capitalism, ie the economic exploitation of the majority. The major difference is that the CHP represents a different wing of Turkey's capitalist class.
The political polarisation between the AKP and the CHP is seemingly based on lifestyles - conservative or secular. But they are both based on the prevailing system and social structures.
A united workers' movement is the only antidote to these two pro-capitalist poles and to Erdogan's polarising poison.
What we need is an alternative party, for which the HDP can be a very important conduit. A party which mounts a class struggle both against the descent into dictatorial rule, and for decent jobs and living standards, public services, social justice, the rights of Kurds and other minorities, and for workers' unity and socialism.
Under the dim light of dictatorship we have no one to trust but our own strength!