In advance of the constitutional referendum on April 16 on whether to approve the proposed amendments to the Constitution that had been brought forward by the governing Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and the opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), the most persistent discourse about Turkey in the West has been that Turkey is becoming authoritarian.
The claim is not new. We have witnessed similar arguments many times over the last four years. The results of the last four elections, including local, presidential and general elections, had already debunked this claim; the April 16 referendum results have been proof of that once again. Neither the latest elections, nor the referendum put forward a tendency toward authoritarianism in Turkey. Turkey said "yes" with 51.4 percent of the vote leaving behind "no" votes at 48.6 percent in the referendum. In the meantime, the turnout was quite high; around 85 percent of the Turkish people went to the polls showing their belief in democracy and the value of their votes.
The results of polls in authoritarian countries generally tend to pile the votes on one side with a low turnout. For instance, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in Egypt was elected president with 97 percent of the votes in May 2014, a year after the military coup. Egyptian official figures showed the turnout was 47.5 percent. I leave it to you to make a comment on how reliable those numbers are; however it's obvious that a country that is becoming more authoritarian every day should have a mathematical trend in such a direction.
In wake of the referendum, a new argument has quickly replaced the old one: Turkey has become polarized. According to those who assert the claim, the percentage of "no" votes has shown that Turkey is divided into two. They argue that because 48.6 percent of people voted "no," it means the results were not fair since almost the half of the country did not want to change the Constitution. That must be a joke.
The rules of democratic elections are quite clear, as far as we know. Some 51.9 percent of the U.K. voted in favor of leaving the EU in the 2016 referendum, commonly known as Brexit, while 48.1 percent voted in favor of staying. If Turkey is divided with 51.6 percent to 48.4 percent referendum results, how come the U.K. was not with 51.9 percent to 48.1 percent?
Hillary Clinton got about 3 million more votes from Americans nationwide in the U.S. presidential elections, a margin of 2.1 percent against Donald Trump. However, Trump became president after winning 30 states. Seeing Trump become the president by getting 46.1 percent of the votes against Clinton's 48.2 percent is fair but the Turkish referendum is not, is quite shocking.
More interestingly, it's not only the columnists and news reports that are making these arguments. French President François Hollande's office said in a communiqué "the published results show how split Turkish society is." Well, recalling the French presidential election results in 2012, didn't Hollande win the elections with 51.6 percent of the vote leaving Nicolas Sarkozy behind at 48.4 percent? Can someone explain to me how does the exact same rate make Turkey split but not France?
By looking at the results of the first round of the presidential election results that took place this weekend in France, can we say that the country is not as healthy as it was in 2012 and the results show how disintegrated French society is. But I think we have to be silent because they are too busy trying to prevent the far-right from getting the majority of the votes in the second round, which will probably lead to the "Frexit."
In fact, the April 16 referendum results reveal that Turkey is still healthy when the results are closely analyzed. Turkey is not polarized; on the contrary it's healing itself despite the terror attacks by the terrorist PKK and Daesh in 2015-2016, the June 15 attempted coup by the Gülenists and many other challenges the country has faced recently.
For instance, Kurdish votes played an important role in the rate of "yes" votes, according to analyses. The early views show that the Kurdish "yes" votes, which are new compared to the general election results in 2015, correspond to at least 1 percent of the votes. That rate is mathematically a result changer for the referendum. The PKK tried to drag the Kurds into a rebellion and dared to start a civil war in Turkey a short while ago, but the Kurds resisted.
The increasing popularity of the governing AK Party and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the southeast of Turkey and the "yes" votes from the Kurds despite a heavy "no" propaganda disseminated by the PKK have shown that they still believe that it's the AK Party and Erdoğan who can solve the Kurdish problem.
Kurds have always been a valuable part of Turkey, and they still want to be in spite of the many incitements they are facing.
On the other hand, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), who brought the constitutional reform package forward with the AK Party couldn't convince some of its voters, according to results. The PKK's statements for "no" didn't make them vote "yes" despite their nationalist views, their anti-terror stance and the increasing nationalist trend globally. However, the "yes" votes from the MHP supporters corresponded to at least 3 percent of the total votes in the referendum, which was also quite crucial for the result.
At least 3 percent from MHP supporters and 1 percent from the Kurdish voters show that at least 2 percent of AK Party supporters said "no" in the referendum compared to their votes for the AK Party in the last general election that took place in November 2015. The AK Party got 49.5 percent of the total votes back then.
In addition to that, 2-3 percent of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) supporters voted "yes" in the referendum, according to analyses comparing to the Nov. 1 general elections, despite the CHP leading the "no" campaign in the referendum.
That means some Kurds said "yes" while some nationalists said "no" in Turkey, proving the fact that Turkish society is not divided in a nationalist tendency. In addition to that, some people who support the AK Party and Erdoğan can say "no" to their party's calls. It's the same for some of the CHP voters as well.
Turkish people are not blindly attached to their parties, which actually show that there is no pressure on the Turkish public, or fear of voting freely, contrary to some reports in the mainstream Western media. They voted according to their own conscience, thoughts and feelings. It's normal and healthy. It's democracy. The news media often misleads people, especially in the era of "fake news" but the math never lies.