The referendum that re-wrote the Turkish Constitution and handed President Recpt Tayyip Erdogan all the powers of a dictator was one of the most momentous votes in Turkey’s history, and it was decided by one of the country’s narrowest electoral majorities.
According to the widely disputed count of the Turkish Electoral Commission, the “Yes” vote for the new Constitution was 51.2%, a slender margin by any measure, but look at it in the context of history. The Constitution 2 weeks ago’s vote eradicated was adopted in 1982, with the backing of 92% of voters, while the previous Constitution was approved by 62% of voters in 1961.
But the official numbers aren’t the only reason so many Turks fear the close vote threatens their country’s political stability.
The President’s campaign was characterized by vicious charges against his opponents, illegal promises and nasty threats to persuade voters, and a raft of probably illegal and certainly immoral dirty tricks on Election Day that created what the chief European election observer called, in a masterpiece of understatement, “an uneven playing field.”
Erdogan’s angry rejection of that judgment, and his campaign attacks on Pope Francis, the European Union, and especially its rule against the death penalty which Ergodan wants to inflict on his enemies have pushed Turkey’s relations to the brink of breaking. A breach that could be a death blow to Turkey’s deeply indebted economy.
But the big breaches are inside Turkey itself. Erdogan’s desperate campaign to entitle himself to tyranny has otherized roughly half of his own people not just politically but religiously. Let me define what I mean by “otherization.” It’s the process by which one side doesn’t just dispute with its opponents, it de-values them in ways that can not only damage their status, but threaten their security.
Putting Turkey back together again as a civil society and functional nation-state is going to be a very hard job, maybe, sad to say, impossible.
Pinar Tremblay is a columnist for Al-Monitor’s Turkey Pulse and a visiting scholar of political science at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. She is a columnist for Turkish news outlet T24. Her articles have appeared in Time, New America, Hurriyet Daily News, Today’s Zaman, Star and Salom.