If politicians and political analysts want to interpret the results of Turkey's constitutional referendum accurately, they better take a good look at President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's victory speech, where he provided valuable insights into the future of Turkish politics.
"For the first time in the Republic's history, civilians made the decision to change our system of government," Mr. Erdoğan stated. "It is no longer possible to be elected president and govern the country by using certain keywords or exploiting certain values. All parties have time until the 2019 presidential election to prepare [for the future]."
He also talked about the Kurdish support for constitutional reform: "I would like to stress the importance of the ‘yes' votes in eastern and southeastern Turkey. In the southeast, we have seen a 10 to 20-point increase [compared to the 2015 parliamentary election]. Hopefully, this result will mark the beginning of a new era in our country."
Although the Republican People's Party (CHP) and the rest of the "no" campaign have claimed that Sunday's vote will ruin Turkey's future, it is no secret that the opposition itself will be changed by the referendum results. At the end of the day, constitutional reform was the product of a democratic process and the very fact that the margin of victory was relatively slim proves Turkish democracy is fully functional.
In fact, Turkey's opposition figures could not just help themselves, but they could also serve their country if they spent their time and energy on analyzing the facts rather than complaining. Right now, there is a large part of the electorate — almost 49 percent — to whom the opposition could appeal in the future. And if the leaders of Turkey's opposition parties cannot build something out of this diverse group of people, they will undoubtedly be replaced by rival politicians.
Let us go back now to the Turkish president's statements about the Kurdish vote. The fact that Mr. Erdoğan referred to the referendum as "the beginning of a new era in Turkey" was very significant. It is noteworthy that Kurdish support for the government has more than doubled over the past two years — even though the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) co-sponsored the constitutional reform bill with the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). As a matter of fact, Kurds might be reshaping Turkish politics.
By voting in favor of constitutional reform, millions of Kurdish voters indicated that they were not convinced by the claim that the AK Party had formed a "fascist front" with the MHP — which left-extremists and Kurdish nationalists repeatedly on the campaign trail. As such, the Kurds signaled that a new political current could emerge on the basis of patriotism and a firm commitment to democracy.
Unfortunately, the Kurdish community's message appears to have been lost on the intellectuals, who fail to understand that the referendum results could make it possible for the opposition to form new partnerships. First of all, the CHP leadership and other opposition parties will have to take the Kurdish community into consideration when they start working on their campaign strategy for 2019. At the same time, it is safe to assume that there will be strong engagement between the CHP and the HDP, the PKK's political wing. Over the next months, former CHP Chairman Deniz Baykal and HDP heavyweight Ahmet Türk might try to capitalize on their personal relationship to get their parties to work together. Alternatively, the CHP leadership could answer the PKK's call and take to the streets — which no politician or center-left voter in their right mind would even think about. As such, it is safe to assume that the HDP-PKK will try to move closer to the CHP line over the coming months.