Another powerful leader in Turkey

“As the world expected (and feared)”, Erdoğan won the referendum last april, sweeping new constitutional powers to the Turkish President. More than a victory of the “evet” campaign or a victory from both the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) -the two main parties supporting the yes campaign., this was a victory of Erdoğan himself.Yet it was not the victory that he expected. The Erdoğan’s pyrrhic victory was not worthy of big celebrations with just a difference of 1.4 million votes, not allowing the President to show to the West that he has the support of all Turkey’s population.

Instead, what we see from the referendum results is that Erdoğan was not able to ensure that a big majority would give credibility to his presidential ambition, even with all the State resources used by the yes campaign (leading to an unfair campaign). Turkey is now a country even more divided, the opposite of what the President asked for. Turkish people during the campaign were very polarised and is predictable to stay like that during the near future. 

Referendums are not to be compared to the general elections, but an inevitable comparison has to be done. If we compare the results from the referendum against those from last elections in Turkey, the AKP and MHP together lost more than 4 million votes. While the opposition parties such as the Republican People's Party (CHP) and the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), who supported the “hayir” campaign, scored 6.5 million votes more, still Erdoğan claims that got more Kurdish votes than before.It is safe to say that he lost popular support in all big Turkish cities.

This does not mean that people have lost trust in Erdoğan. The referendum was about regime changes, not about political parties. Despite the huge support for AKP since 2002 elections, a 48.7% of the Turks who voted did not wish a presidential system for Turkey, which gives more power to the President, without checks and balances, just as autocratic regimes work. I believe that the true reality about the AKP’s support will come up with the elections in 2019.

The CHP and the HDP will have to show that they are charismatic enough to keep the votes from the referendum and also be able to minimise the polarisation. The role of the Kurds in the following election will be important. If the HDP is not able to cross the 10% threshold, the AKP would get more seats, leaving the Kurds and other minorities in a more complicated situation, worse than the current one, where many of the HDP lawmakers have been imprisionedand Kurdish mayors have been replaced by AKP trustees.

Under the AKP rule, Turkey has changed from a secular democracy with strong ties with the West, to a conservative Islamist autocracy with increasing ties to the East. Erdoğan during the first mandates as Prime-minister was able to stabilise the Turkish economy and started a peace process with the Kurds, in foreign affairs the AKP government improved the relations with the European Union and turned Turkey into a model for the new Arab world, after the Arab Spring.

Nowadays Turkey is still an emergent market, not only because of its strong economy, but also because of its growing soft power in international affairs: Turkish Embassies and the TIKA cooperation projects have been growing all around the world since AKP took power. Erdoğan’s response to the Gezi Park protests mark a switch in how the international community turns its eyes on Turkey. From a model leader, Erdoğan started to be criticised for his increasing authoritarian power, which have gradually intensify after the coup attempt on July 15th, putting many of their old allies in jail and creating new enemies within the West.

The relations with the European Union had their ups and downs, nowadays it is a complicated relation with Erdoğan calling Germany and The Netherlands Nazis and challenging the refugees agreement with the EU, even proposing an EU referendum regarding the accession process that has been paralysed for years. Turkey, as a member of NATO and its strategic position at the European doorstep, is a State that cannot be left aside by the EU. Erdoğan knows that and will keep playing with the West until he can secure new friends around the world.

The recent decision from the Council of Europe to reopen a monitoring probe into Turkey over concerns about democracy and human rights, just after the referendum is to be taken with caution. Relations with the EU will worsen and is one more signal that Turkey's bid to become an EU Member State will remain frozen for years until the Turkish Republic respects the rule of law. This will push Turkey even more close to Russia, something that NATO would not like to see as Turkey represents the second military force of the alliance.

Turkey has now only one leader, stronger than the former Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, father of the Turks, that was able to end the Ottoman Empire and establish a Secular Republic, unfortunately a new Sultan might be just around the corner. Erdoğan got what he wanted, but instead of a united Turkey around him, he has created a divided Turkey. The battle during the referendum was also between Kemalists and Erdoganists, with Kurds (and other minorities) in the middle, which represent three of the most important factions in Turkey.

How will they manage to live under the same regime? We do not know that, but in the upcoming years we will see how they will be living side by side, while their President polarises their homeland even more. The crackdown against Kurds has already started, but it will be more complicated for Erdoğan to turn against the founder of the Turkish Republic. Unconsciously or not, he might have already started a clash with the Kemalists.

Secular feelings and Kurdish identity in Turkey are still strong, and might give a surprise in the next Presidential elections. After the referendum, the CHP was able to change the focus from secular to justice, showing the lack of justice that Turkish people is facing since the failed coup that plunged the country into a state of emergency. The opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu started the “Justice March” in Ankara, after one of the CHP members was sentenced to jail. Kılıçdaroğlu, or as he is currently known “Gandhi Kemal”, has been followed by thousands of people to Istanbul, only using signs with the word “adalet”,meaning justice in Turkish.

More than a regime change, the referendum was about the future of Turkey and its people. The majority has chosen to give more power to Erdoğan, which the West has to respect as it was the will of the Turkish, but now more than ever Turkey’s destiny is in Turkish hands. The “Justice March” is a good example on how Turkish people can, by peaceful manners, join forces against the increasing authoritarianism of the President. Turkey can still be a role model for the world and have a booming economy, respecting the rule of law. Or, Turkey can become a hell for journalists and opponents, a country where human rights and democracy are no longer respected with a shrinking economy. It is not (only) up to Erdoğan to decide the future of Turkey, Turks still have the power to vote and they are the ones who will decide the future of Turkey in the next elections.