The referendum on 16 April about changing the system of government in Turkey toward a totalitarian one-man regime was officially declared to be won by Erdogan, with the result being 51% yes and 49% no. This result came after extremely unfair conditions of political campaigning. There was a horror of intimidation, blackmail, smear, blackening, manipulation, lies, a reign of terror, mainly by the state forces, applied under a regime of state of emergency which allows the government (practically Erdogan) to rule by decrees. The opposition camp was not allowed to carry on a proper campaign, with almost no space given to them in TV channels, other media outlets, etc. Many oppositionists trying to voice their views in streets were beaten by either directly state forces or by fascist gangs backed by state forces. The leaders, MPs, local officials and activists of the third biggest party, the HDP, which is mainly supported by the Kurds, were in prison during the campaigning period. Not only them, but also many other left-wing oppositionists were arrested in the run-up to the referendum. The Yes camp used every means including state resources in its campaign. As a result, No campaign was nearly invisible. And despite these conditions all they could get turned out to be a mere 51%.
Even this result does not represent the real outcome of the ballots. There are a lot of concrete evidences that the election was rigged. In a very suspicious act the Higher Election Council announced when the balloting is still in progress that unsealed ballots and envelops would be counted as valid. This decision is a clear violation of the law and was made upon the application by the AKP representative during the election day. The requirement that ballots and envelopes be sealed is a precaution against fake ballots and envelopes. The appeals made by opposition parties were also declined by the Higher Election Council and the decision is final. It is calculated that there are 2.5 million unsealed ballots.
All signs are there to see that the official results do not reflect the truth and that real number of No votes are higher than Yes votes. This referendum carried out under state of emergency is not legitimate. A new regime built on this referendum result will not be legitimate in the eyes of broad masses. In fact, set aside the No voters, even the Yes voters are not content with the result. Many Yes voters are not in the mood of a deserved victory. Also many of them are not sure that the amendments will bring a good future to the country. They reluctantly voted just in support of Erdogan and in the hope of stability. The truth is that there is a strong sense of dislike among society for a one-man regime. Such a big scale constitutional regime change, giving the president sweeping powers and relegating parliament to an ineffective body, cannot be legitimate by just (at most) a half of the nation’s consent, with the other half being hostile.
Against all odds, 6 biggest cities, with the exception of Bursa, voted for No. 17 out of 30 metropolitan cities voted for No. The Marmara region, Aegean region and Mediterranean region, which contain those big cities that are the hotbeds of the modern working class, rejected this regime change.
The whole process in Kurdish provinces is a real mirror of repressive, anti-democratic character of this referendum. Hundreds of thousands of people were forced to leave their homes, their political representatives were imprisoned, which means that the Kurdish people had to vote with handcuffs tied in their wrists. A lot of villages were threatened by local state officials. Under severe state terror and repression, a part of the Kurdish people was forced to sell their votes as well. There was no ballot box safety particularly in Kurdish rural areas. Many registered ballot box observers of the HDP were arrested, or not allowed to carry out their duties on the spot. All these factors came to account for some extra 400,000 Yes votes in Kurdish provinces, especially coming from the rural areas, compared to the previous elections. This amounts to some extra 10 points for the Yes vote throughout the Kurdish provinces compared to the last elections.
Quite aware of the problem of the lack of legitimacy with the result Erdogan in his first speech to the crowd said that “it’s gone now” to suppress controversies and questions about the legitimacy. And he immediately put forward the issue of bringing back the death penalty. This was a clear attempt to offset the lack of legitimacy with the referendum, which will not remain the only one in the coming period.
The outcome of the referendum is neither a victory for Erdogan camp, nor a defeat for the No forces. The expression in the faces of Erdogan and his aides in the election night were not suggestive of a victory. And the No camp is not in a demoralized and desperate mood. The existing situation is a political crisis including a crisis of legitimacy. The period ahead will make the real aspects and dimensions of this crisis clearer.
There has been a discontent building up for some time and Erdogan and co. are quite conscious of it. They know that they could not get the vote through convincing their supporters who have voted reluctantly. The suppressed and delayed consequences of the economic crisis will be realized in a much more open way now. It is an open secret that the government put pressure on capitalists for them not to fire any workers until the referendum day. Now most immediate items of attack on the working class are already known to be to abolish the right of workers to severance pay and the job security of public employees. There will be more government banning of strikes in continuation of already banned metal strikes. It is obvious that these attacks will increase the discontent of the working masses voting in favour of Erdogan and the AKP.
What is important here is the problem of lack of an alternative for the working masses. Most of them vote in an act of choosing the lesser evil, which highlights the importance of organised forces. In the period ahead which will see the deepening of the crisis in a multifaceted way, these forces will have a chance to play a more effective role. In fact, despite all repression, organised class forces have already carried on an important and successful work in this referendum, which resulted in quite a large number of workers having changed their ways of looking and changed their votes to No. This ground is a source of hope and resolve.
Erdogan is in trouble not only on the front of economy but also in the realm of international relations. His old and new imperialist allies showed reluctance to recognise the referendum results. That is why Erdogan called out to international powers for recognition in his first speech to the crowd. In the imperialist war going on in the region Turkey is between a rock and a hard place. She cannot satisfy the USA and the West and Russia. At a time when Erdogan and the government desperately need moves to boost nationalist sentiments, they had to announce the end of the Operation Euphrates Shield in humiliation. Now Erdogan needs to change the agenda and create a new climate of national euphoria.
Overall, although Erdoğan appears to win the referendum and be at the apex of his power, what happens in reality is that this is a new step in their decline. The fact that they have lost the biggest cities that are centres of industry, commerce and culture is perhaps the most important aspect of this referendum. The AKP have been winning during the last 15 years in these cities on the basis of the newly migrated working masses from the rural areas and backward towns in the last few decades. Although these masses are proletarianised in an economic sense, they have not been so in the socio-cultural sense of the word. Although it is full of contradictions and moves slowly, there is no doubt that this situation is changing and the direction of change is self-evident. The working masses are learning by their own experiences and with heavy price. The task of revolutionaries is not to assume attitudes frustrating this process, but, on the contrary, to assume attitudes to encourage and further this process.
The ground of totalitarianism that Erdogan represents is not sound as it seems. Although this regime is not to go the day after tomorrow, it will not take so many years either. Having gathered support on the basis of an appeal for stability, this regime will exactly fail to deliver it. When the day of fall comes in a not too distant future, there might be important possibilities for the revolutionary working class. What is important today is to keep the morals high, continue with the struggle, and prepare for those days.
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