Yesterday, over 50 million Turkish citizens participated in a historic constitutional referendum to vote on a series of amendments which, among other things, would replace Turkey's deeply-flawed parliamentary system with a presidential system of government. After months of a hard-fought yet peaceful campaign, Sunday's vote took place in a transparent, free and fair manner. Over the past weeks, both the "yes" campaign and opponents of the constitutional reform did their best to win over undecided voters and advertise their views. In the end, the referendum marked a victory for Turkish democracy and our country's long-term stability.
As in every electoral contest, there were winners and losers.
The obvious victor of yesterday's vote was the Turkish people. Nine months after a failed coup attempt and amid an international smear campaign against their country, they came through and sent a strong message to Turkey's enemies. At the same time, the April 16 constitutional referendum marked the successful end of a decade-long process of reform: In 2007, the overwhelming majority of Turkish citizens had backed a proposal to let the people, instead of parliamentarians, elect Turkish presidents. Three years later, additional amendments were passed to further weaken the military guardianship regime by bringing the 1980 junta to justice. Finally, the Turkish people voted yesterday to partially reverse the legacy of the 1960 coup d'etat by re-establishing the presidency's ties with party politics, neutralizing the risk of weak coalition governments and introducing new mechanisms to strengthen the separation of powers. In other words, the nation restored the Republic's factory settings.
Another big winner was Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. In August 2014, he had received 51.8 percent of the vote to become the country's first popularly-elected president. According to unofficial results, the "yes" campaign won the support of a similar share of the electorate on Sunday. As such, it is safe to conclude that Mr. Erdoğan has consolidated his voter base after nearly three years in office – a sign that he will remain a formidable candidate if he pursues re-election in 2019.
Finally, it is important to acknowledge that the April 16 constitutional referendum was a victory for future generations. Since 1960, at least four democratically-elected governments in Turkey have been overthrown by the military. The system of government designed by the coup plotters created political deadlocks, crippled the economy and made it possible for the military guardianship regime to interfere in the political process as it pleased. As a result, succeeding generations of Turks have suffered under dysfunctional governments that were unable to manage a country with vast potential. It is therefore that future generations stand to benefit from the constitutional changes that the electorate adopted yesterday and a deeply flawed political system will no longer stand in the way of Turkey's progress.
As for the losers:
The biggest loser of Sunday's referendum has been the European Union and European governments that have been in bed with terrorist groups including the PKK and the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) throughout the election campaign. In recent months, Europe's self-proclaimed democrats had no problem meddling in the Turkish referendum by openly siding with the "no" campaign, targeting Turkish diplomats and imposing an arbitrary ban on events organized by the proponents of the constitutional reform. Moving forward, they will have to come to terms with the political realities in Turkey if they want to protect their interests.
Meanwhile in Eastern Turkey, the PKK and the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), the terrorists' political wing, paid a heavy price for unilaterally ending the cease-fire in July 2015, abandoning disarmament talks with Turkey and turning the lives of ordinary citizens into hell. In predominantly-Kurdish provinces such as Diyarbakir, voters supported the constitutional reform in higher numbers than anticipated. Unless the terrorists and their political wing are prepared to risk further decline in their popular support, they will have to correct their mistake, stop threatening Turkey and cease their efforts in northern Syria.
Finally, the international media proved yet again that they are unable to understand Turkish politics and predict how Turkish voters are going to behave. Until the last minute, many international reporters in Turkey crossed their fingers and hoped that the historic referendum would mark a tipping point for Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party). Although they have been reporting on the constitutional reform for months, they were too lazy to study Turkey's constitutional tradition and instead pretended they knew what was going on by reciting the "no" campaign's talking points. Hopefully, they learned their lesson this time around.
Over the next months, the Turkish Parliament will work on a number of laws to facilitate the country's transition from parliamentarism to a presidential system of government. However, it is important to acknowledge that the country is over the hump. Moving forward, the winners need to ensure that the transition is completed smoothly and the losers will have to reflect on their shortcomings and stop arguing with the facts. The referendum marked a victory for Turkish democracy. But the fight for a better future continues.