Turkey's ruling AK Party of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an won a landmark referendum on Sunday (12 September) introducing changes to the country's constitution. The victory of the 'yes' camp by 58% against 42%, a higher margin than anticipated, is expected to strengthen the AKP ahead of national elections due next year.
"Tonight the real losers have been those with military takeover mentalities. We have proof that change can be brought about democratically," Erdo?an said, quoted by Euronews.
Indeed, the AK Party had adopted a strategy of presenting the constitutional changes as a U-turn away from the previous constitution, put in place after the 1980 military coup by General Kenan Evren. In fact, the referendum coincided with the 30th anniversary of the 12 September 1980 coup and was presented by the authorities as an historic settlement with its instigators.
But the government also targeted the secularists, who had tried to ban the Islamic-rooted AKP in 2002 on the grounds that it had violated the political parties law.
The Republican People's Party (CHP), the main opposition party which campaigned for the 'no' camp, warned that the constitutional changes would allow the AKP to appoint the country's top judges and transform Turkey into an authoritarian regime dominated by a single party (EURACTIV 02/09/10).
"In the referendum, 42% of our citizens voted against this constitutional package, and 23% didn't vote at all," noted Kemal K?l?çdaro?lu, leader of the CHP. "This must not be under-estimated. With 42%, for sure our party has a very important role to play," K?l?çdaro?lu said, quoted by the Turkish press.
The turnover of around 78% appears to be high, but the authorities had envisaged a fine for those who do not vote. Also, there were around 700,000 invalid votes, a figure which appears surprisingly high. In theory, invalid votes are cast by undecided voters who went to the ballot box but refused to lend support to either the 'yes' or the 'no' fronts. Technical issues were also cited as a reason for invalid votes.
Street clashes marred voting at some polling stations in provinces with large Kurdish populations. Dozens of people were detained in connection with the incidents. Apart from these, the referendum was held in a peaceful atmosphere nationwide.
Commission welcomes vote outcome
EU Enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle welcomed the referendum results as a "step in the right direction" in its efforts to join the bloc, but pressed Ankara for more change.
In previous statements, the European Commission had regretted the lack of dialogue and compromise in the preparatory phase of the reform package and the referendum campaign itself.
According to the Commission, the positive elements of the constitutional amendments are the following:
- Regarding military justice, the reform restricts the competence of military courts to crimes of military personnel related to military service and duties, and allows civilian courts to try military personnel on all other occasions;
- It allows for trial of the army chief and his aides by the Supreme Court;
- The composition of the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors is widened and aims to represent the judiciary as a whole;
- The reforms also allow for positive discrimination measures for women and children;
- The package also extends the rights of civil servants to collective bargaining and agreements, but not the right to vote.
- It provides a legal basis for establishing the institution of an ombudsman.