The Current

Turkey's referendum win: decisive defeat or pyrrhic victory?

The "yes" win in Turkey's referendum has many concerned of the sweeping new powers granted to President Recep Erdogan.
Turkey's historic referendum results marginally approved constitutional changes that would greatly expand the powers of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Opposition parties question the outcome and are challenging the results. (Burhan Ozbilici/Associated Press)

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Turkey's referendum on April 16 resulted in just over half of Turkey's voters saying "yes" to granting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sweeping new powers.

The breakdown of votes was so marginal — with 51.37 per cent "yes" votes and the "no" vote at 48.63 per cent, according to the state-run Anadolu Agency — that many are calling for a recount. 

Final results will be declared in about 10 days by Turkey's electoral board.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told naysayers, 'There are those who are belittling the result. They shouldn't try, it will be in vain.' (Yasin Bulbul/Presidential Press Service/Associated Press)

Several opposition groups have claimed irregularities during the voting process, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has said that the referendum "fell short" of international standards.

For opponents of the Turkish president, this vote has put into question the future of Turkey as a functioning democracy. It has also laid bare the intense divisions in that country. 

Sanem, a manager of a non-profit government organization, has asked not to identify her employer for fear of government reprisal.

She tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti that the narrow win concerns the party.

"The foremost reason being that in 2019 when President Recep Erdogan is up for re-election, he doesn't think that he will have a landslide win anymore which was what he was hoping that this referendum results would show," says Sanem.

Supporters of the No vote protest in Istanbul against the referendum outcome, April 17, 2017. (Emrah Gurel/Associated Press)

She attributes Turkey as a very polarized country similar to Europe, the West and U.S. and says, "Turkish society sees Turkey's future as being on two very different paths."

"Whereas the 'no' camp voters think that this is the last nail on the coffin of Turkish democracy as we know it — of Turkish democracy as Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the republic founded it," Sanem explains. 

She points to the "no" camp as very disenfranchised and says once the referendum results go into effect, there will be an end to parliamentary participatory democracy.

But for "yes" side supporters, Sanem says they expect to see a more powerful country to stand up to the West.

"Supporters of AK Party and supporters of Erdogan think that this is the new Turkey. Some have even called him the founder of new Turkey." 

The Turkish newspaper Daily Sabah supported the "yes" side of the referendum and opinion editorMeryem İlayda Atlascalls the result a win for democracy.

"The parliamentary system, in general, is not producing democracy. It was giving more power to the other political issues," she tells Tremonti.

Supporters of the "Yes" vote, celebrate in Istanbul, April 16, 2017. (Petros Karadjias/Associated Press)

Ilayda Atlas adds the legislative will be more effective now that there is a separation of power.

"So this will be based on more power of the people and power of the politics."

However, she is concerned as a "yes" voter that the dispute over irregularities in the referendum result will overshadow her vote.

"But I would say that the problem that we are living in, and the objections of the opposition parties are because of the existing system in Turkey ... giving too much power to bureaucracy."

Sanem has her own worries. She tells Tremonti the current atmosphere of oppression and intimidation resonates in Turkey with no repercussions.

"International non-governmental organizations, international aid organizations are being targeted — shut down even — and there is no real recourse to constitutional rights because we are in a state of emergency."

Listen to the full segment at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Lara O'Brien, Samira Mohyeddin and Ashley Mak.