The referendum on constitutional amendments, which has been an issue of interest in Turkey and Europe for months, was finally held last Sunday. The result: 51.4 percent of "yes" votes determined the outcome. What does that mean? It means that the proposed 18-article amendment package will come into force gradually and laws stipulating both technical and political adjustment will be passed during the transition period. In other words, Turkey is going to have a new system of governance. The executive branch is to be remodeled and the relationship of the executive with the legislative and judiciary branches will also change along with it. Basically, there will be both systematic changes and changes in the way we perceive Turkey's governing system. The real issue now is how this change will play out.
The fact that "yes" votes won with a narrow majority seems to excite the "no" camp and put ripples in the pool of Western public opinion. They see a glimmer of hope in the objections that are raised in response to the Supreme Board of Elections (YSK) decision, as they are after every election in Turkey, trying to declare the election illegitimate. Of course, every kind of objection will be meticulously examined by the YSK. Indeed, that's what happened so far. Though our democracy certainly has some deficiencies and shortcomings, our track record on holding transparent, free and fair elections is flawless. Casting doubt on this would amount to tarnishing Turkey's reputation. So, I urge the Republican People's Party (CHP) to avoid doing that. On the other hand, the objections some are raising with the YSK about unsealed voting envelopes cast as unsealed ballots and counted alongside checked ballots is an argument being used to call the result into question. However, when you look at Turkey's electoral history, you see that this is not the first time that such an objection has been raised and that the YSK responded previously, as it does now, with the same approach: "Unless proven to be brought from an outside polling station, unsealed envelopes are valid." This is just how it happened during March 1984 and 1989 local elections.
Such debates after elections only create tensions. Of course, in the meantime we will wait for the YSK to complete its review, which is expected to take 10-to-11 days. Also, efforts are needed for an inclusive transition process that depends on the stance of the opposition. As a particular example, electoral laws will be changed. While all parties have been complaining about electoral laws for years, now they can go about the changes together. Law regarding political parties will also be changed. Turkey has come to have a great opportunity now to remove the obstacles that have stood in the way of its democratization. If the opposition takes steps to squander this process by bringing into question the election result, the government will close the door to dialogue and pursue the changes on its own. But, the results of the Sunday's election indicate that voters want these changes to be implemented step by step and in collaboration across party lines.
The results also indicate many other things. For instance, even though the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) formed the "yes" camp with the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), it appears that the MHP base largely voted "no." It seems that the MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli failed to persuade his base, as that alliance brought gains only in Central Anatolia with a meager 2.5 percent, causing a 10 percent loss in the Marmara region and a 15 percent loss in the Mediterranean region. In fact, the results resemble those of the presidential election from which President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan emerged victorious. Erdoğan won 52 percent of the vote in the first round of that election. And, although Bahçeli stands with Erdoğan now, looking at party bases we see that essentially three opposition parties are positioned against Erdoğan. In short, we can say that the 51.4 percent of the "yes" vote was largely meant for Erdoğan himself. Speaking of votes for Erdoğan, we should definitely focus on the Kurdish vote, for although the number of "no" votes seemingly outstripped "yes" votes in many Kurdish-populated cities, we see a serious shift toward "yes" in the southeast, compared to the most recent June 7 and November 1, 2015 elections. For example, in Hakkari, a [Kurdish nationalist] Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) stronghold, the AK Party received only 8 percent of the vote on June 7 and 12 percent on Nov. 1, while the "yes" vote reached 32 percent in the referendum. Similarly in Şırnak, where the AK Party got 16 percent of the vote on June 7, the "yes" vote came to be 42 percent. It is calculated that the overall increase in votes across the region totaled nearly 1 million. Besides, it occurred against the backdrop of severe clashes with the PKK and under the state of emergency. In other words, the Kurds still had qualms in voting on a system that treated them unjustly for long and led to human rights violations. They denied support to the former hegemonic ideology of Kemalism. Surely, there will be a new opening for Kurds by the government in the upcoming period.