Why is Europe disturbed by Turkish referendum result?

Published 22.04.2017 01:56
Updated 22.04.2017 02:14
A Turkish voter standing at the polling station for the Turkish referendum in Deventer, Netherlands where the yes vote was 71 percent.
A Turkish voter standing at the polling station for the Turkish referendum in Deventer, Netherlands where the "yes" vote was 71 percent.

Disrespecting the Turkish referendum result means European democrats are hurting their own democratic values

On April 16, Turkey approved a democratization reform package that changed the governmental system by receiving 51.4 percent "yes" votes. Thus, constitutional amendments, which were passed by Parliament, were approved by citizens, according to unofficial results.

The old system led to instability and bureaucratic tutelage. The government system was two-headed and was among the greatest obstacles to democratization. There was a democracy deficit in Turkey that became institutionalized via changes introduced by constitutions made by putschists after the four military coups in Turkey's history.

In the 1982 coup Constitution, the junta expanded the executive powers of the president, while granting him "immunity from criminal liability" at the same time. General Kenan Evren, the junta leader, was the fir

st president after these changes. The projection was that this post would always be filled by pro-tutelage figures. Hence, every presidential election turned into a crisis. The power to elect the president belonged to Parliament. But parties and deputies in Parliament faced pressure from the military during every election.

In 2007, the military issued an illegal memorandum before the presidential election to block the election of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) candidate. Other instruments of tutelage, along with the Republican People's Party (CHP), backed that move. In the wake of the ensuing crisis, the AK Party called a snap election and put a series of constitutional amendments to a referendum, including election of the president by popular vote. The amendments were approved.

But the anomaly was still there. What we faced this time was an executive branch fragmented in two, consisting of a popularly elected prime minister (indirect) and a popularly elected president (direct). Since the people had entrusted both posts to AK Party candidates, a potential crisis went largely unnoticed. Yet the problem was serious. If the prime minister and the president were from different parties, it would be impossible to govern the country.

Thus, the reform introduced in 2007 was consummated on April 16. A levelheaded approach to the subject shows this is the whole point.


The new system establishes an unambiguous separation of powers. The executive and the legislative will be elected directly by the people in separate ballot boxes. And the judiciary will be based on indirect popular legitimacy. Compared to the French experience with the Fourth and Fifth Republics, there is apparently a more evolutionary and deeper democratic transition. Charles De Gaulle had opposed a system that envisaged a weak executive and a strong legislature and resigned after the founding of the Fourth Republic [in 1946]. But he returned to power following the so-called Algiers putsch (or the coup of May 13) in 1958. In a referendum held on a new constitution that would introduce a powerful presidency as the sole executive, 80 percent of citizens voted "yes," and the Fifth Republic was founded. However, the process was characterized by many extraordinary developments.

In June 1958, the French Parliament dissolved itself and granted de Gaulle and his cabinet extraordinary powers, like the power to rule by decree for up to six months. But a public vote was to be held anyway. Accepting the result of the referendum made more sense than challenging it and causing a political crisis. The French people had the final word, however, no matter how painful the process was.

Turkey, on the other hand, has undertaken its reforms in a piecemeal fashion, always listening to the people. Despite that, however, Europe took sides in the April 16 referendum in a very combative and disrespectful way. Now they are trying to cast doubt on the result and provide a handy excuse to the CHP and the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) in an attempt to stir the streets by questioning the outcome.

Reports by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) and the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE) passed well beyond the role of an impartial observer, involving a kind of partiality intended to complicate the process.

German Left Party (Die Linke) deputy Andrej Hunko, who came to Turkey to observe the referendum as part of PACE's monitoring team, is known to be a biased PKK sympathizer and was previously pictured with a PKK flag. Even sending this person to Turkey as an impartial observer shows how dubious Europe's claim to be impartial and objective is.

Turkey was almost fully prevented from conducting a "yes" campaign in Europe. A female Turkish minister was forced to stay in her car and later deported. A plane carrying Turkey's foreign minister was denied landing permission. EU citizens of Turkish origin were attacked and threatened with deprivation of citizenship. Some European lawmakers have even gone so far as to send letters to Turks in their countries urging them to vote "no." A group of Belgian lawmakers called for banning dual citizenship, as the majority of Belgian-Turkish citizens voted "yes."

All this feels like a nightmare. It's just shameful. Of course, that chaos concerns Europe more than Turkey. How has Europe blatantly evolved into what it is now? Why does nobody strongly question the decline of democracy and the drift into fascism in Europe?

The U.K.'s Brexit referendum got a 51.8 percent vote in favor of leaving the EU. The "yes" votes prevailed by only about 527,000. In Turkey, the 51.4 percent "yes" vote outnumbered the "no" by 1.3 million. By democratic rules, even one vote more would require the outcome to be respected.

The election was held under remarkably peaceful and democratic circumstances. The objection that at some polling stations the ballot box committee forgot to seal envelopes was rejected by the Supreme Election Board (YSK) – unanimously and with the approval of the CHP member – before the vote count ended. It would be wrong to invalidate votes because of mistakes by polling clerks. Envelopes and ballot papers were watermarked and issued in limited numbers. Votes could not be invalidated because the ballot box committee forgot to stamp the envelopes. In any case, the voting still went on. In other words, the YSK announced it before the vote count started. And the YSK is the supreme authority on this matter. Its decisions cannot be overruled.

Moreover, similar instances have occurred in almost every previous election. And the YSK had resolved the issue likewise.


Despite these facts, opponents of the "yes" vote are trying to smear the YSK's announcement and present one-sided opinions, as seen in the OSCE and PACE reports, and they are plainly taking sides. It is simply trying to legitimize efforts to get frustrated "no" voters out on the streets. Having mobilized its powers in favor of the "no" campaign before the election, Europe is still pursuing its folly in trying to cast doubt on the result.Europe didn't just declare its wish to see Recep Tayyip Erdoğan removed from power in Turkey; they also mustered all their strength to interfere with Turkey's domestic policy. Europe has openly shelved democratic values. If we are to be democrats, we have to agree that only citizens can decide who will lead the country and what its governmental system will be. And this is ensured through free elections. Disrespecting election results means that Europe is shooting itself in the foot.

The real question is how can such a Europe contribute to Turkey? Why would Turkey want to join such a despicable union? A Europe that is challenging democratic values, paving the way for fascism, hosting terrorist organizations, allowing the rise of racism and engaging in operations abroad is no longer the Europe that Turkey wants to be part of.

Turkey has implemented reforms and put its citizens' will at the center of its governmental system. Only the people will decide its future.

This is the meaning of the April 16 referendum. Those who want to may go on tilting at windmills.

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