It was a narrow victory and one which will not please President Erdogan ,who was hoping for a decisive one. Instead he won by a whisker with an estimated 51.4% of the vote, despite controlling the media and conducting the ‘Yes’ campaign under a state of emergency, (extended for a further three months on 17 April) which limited the ability of opponents to openly campaign for a ‘No’ vote and meant that essential fundamental campaigning freedoms were denied.
Despite saying that the vote, was “well administered”, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the Council of Europe were critical of the campaign saying that it was an “unlevel playing field” and the two sides of the campaign “did not have equal opportunities”. “In general, the referendum did not live up to Council of Europe standards,” said Cezar Florin Preda, head of the Council of Europe delegation. Their criticisms were quickly rejected by President Erdogan who did not accept their comments and demanded that should ‘know their place’. But opposition parties who have many criticisms about the way the referendum and the vote was conducted, will gain confidence from the report to pursue their concerns about abuses.
When I last visited Istanbul in January (see blog dated 21 January ‘Turkey’s democracy being frozen out’) I was impressed by the determination of many in the ‘Vote No’ camp, who were determined to get out and campaign amongst the people despite the odds. They did remarkably well to achieve the majority no votes in Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir, the three biggest cities in Turkey. And within hours of the provisional result being announced Morning Star journalist Steve Sweeney who is in Turkey covering the referendum ,was reporting on social media that opposition demonstrations were growing in many districts of Istanbul and other places, with the simple message that “we will resist”. “The pots and pans heard across Istanbul on Sunday night were a reminder of the spirit of Gezi Park.” There are reports that some journalists covering opposition demonstrations in various places have bee arrested.
But make no mistake the victory no matter how narrow is a vote for an increasingly authoritarian and autocratic regime. The rule of law, the OdaTV judgement not withstanding, is becoming a distant memory, along with the separation of powers and memories of an independent and critical media. And it is significant that within hours of the result Erdogan was calling for the reintroduction of the death penalty.
A long standing colleague of mine in Turkey, a former journalist now a lawyer, emailed shortly after the result was announced as follows: “It was a shady referendum. Not only in terms of propaganda period but mainly in terms of the security of boxes. It seems that the power prepared the ground for every kind of trick. From now on, Erdogan is a dictator not only de facto but also de jure. It is not the rule of law but the rule of Erdogan. For 15 years, we were asking ourselves if it could be possible to see worse than the current situation. Every time we saw the worse one. Journalist arrests, suicide bombs, coup attempt, state of emergency… And the final result is the worse than the previous bad ones. We are ones like in a marsh. Up to now, there were some pipes to get us breath, such as a little bit free media, some politicians, a few judges… They were giving us a hope to live. Now all those pipes to breathe will be cut off.”
19 April 8.13am. Stop Press from Morning Star journalist Steve Sweeney: “As I head back to London I would like to thank Turkey for the unexpected extra day in the country and for the Business Class ticket. I am on the plane so will be brief and will write more on my return. For now I leave with this message: The people of Turkey said No!”