The Turkish people approved a historic referendum on Sunday for constitutional reform and a switch to a presidential system with 51.4 percent in favor. However, a drastic drop was observed in the combined votes of the parties that supported the "yes" front compared to the last general elections. Experts said even though some voters from both the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) sided with the "no" front in the referendum, the "Erdoğan effect" was the main determinant in the election and that the president had restored trust with the results and the referendum victory.
Despite the combined votes of the MHP and the AK Party standing at 61.39 percent in the Nov. 1, 2015 elections, the "yes" votes barely exceeded 51 percent in the referendum. Considering that the AK Party votes alone were 49.49 percent in Nov. 1 elections, the preliminary results of the referendum were evaluated as showing that the the majority of Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) voters sided with the "no" campaign, especially in cities in the western parts of the country. However, experts think that the MHP was not the only party unable to convince its voters, the ruling AK Party also lost voters to the "no" front.
"It is not a reliable idea to evaluate and compare the results over the combined votes of two parties in the Nov. 1 elections," said Mehmet Şahin, a professor of political science at Gazi University, to Daily Sabah. "It was a referendum, not an election, and people voted for a system, not for political parties. Both parties [AKP and MHP] have lost voters at the same level, I guess. But people's trusted President [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan to deliver a victory for the 'yes' front," he said.
In MHP Chairman Devlet Bahçeli's constituency Osmaniye, AK Party and MHP votes were above 81 percent in November, whereas in the referendum, "yes" votes made up only 58 percent of the total. Also in the Antalya, Balıkesir, Bolu, Bursa, Çanakkale, Denizli, Giresun, Muğla, Ordu, Samsun, Trabzon, Yalova and Rize provinces, the share of "yes" votes was lower than the AK Party votes in the November elections.
On the other hand, predominantly Kurdish cities in the east and southeast opted "yes" on Sunday's referendum despite the fact that the pro-PKK Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) remained in the "no" camp during the referendum process. "Yes" votes received much more support compared to the AK Party votes in the Nov. 1 elections, even though the fact that the nationalist MHP has almost "zero effect" in almost all of the cities across southeastern Turkey.
Şahin said the surge in southeastern votes proved that the result should be evaluated from a "supra-party" perspective. "Despite the support to the ruling AK Party remained low in the latest election, referendum result revealed that the people's belief in President Erdoğan and his politics are still high in the region," Şahin said.
Prof. Yaşar Hacısalihoğlu, Yeni Yüzyıl University's rector and an academic in the Department of International Relations, also underlined that the result of the referendum can basically be the outcome of President Erdoğan's consistent and high efforts regarding the issue.
He said that both the AK Party and the MHP lost some voters, however, the two parties now carry the responsibility of explaining the constitutional changes to the public, particularly to those who voted "no" in the referendum, until 2019, when Turkey will hold an election and move into the new system.
With the referendum result, the Turkish people approved amendments to 18 articles of the existing Constitution, including the transition from a parliamentary government system to a presidential system. The reforms will hand executive powers to the president and abolish the post of prime minister. The president will also be allowed to keep his ties to a political party. President Erdoğan is now expected to rejoin the ruling AK Party.
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