The Turkish referendum result last week showed up the problems facing the increasingly authoritarian president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
He scored 51.4 percent in a referendum that strips parliament of power and gives it to the president. But while this seems like a victory, in many ways it falls far short of what Erdogan was after.
Erdogan argued again and again that what he wanted was at least 60 percent, rather than a close shave. He failed to get this in spite of a huge and obscenely well-financed “Yes” campaign—and police harassment of the opposition.
More importantly, Erdogan and his AKP party lost votes in comparison with the most recent general election in 2015.
In 2015, there were two general elections in June and November. In the first election the AKP vote dropped by 10 points to 40 percent—a loss of one-fifth of Erdogan’s electoral base.
In November, the threat of chaotic and unstable coalition governments enabled him to regain the lost votes. Nevertheless, the previous losses gave a clear indication of discontent and unhappiness within the AKP’s base.
The referendum results provide further indications of the state of Turkish politics.
So the fascist MHP party also campaigned for a “Yes” vote.
But the “Yes” vote was 10 points below the combined AKP and MHP vote at the most recent general election.
Also significant was the fact that all the big cities—including Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, Adana and Mersin—voted “No”. This was the first time the AKP lost an election in Istanbul since 1994 when Erdogan became mayor.
It is not difficult to understand why a section of Erdogan’s base may be deserting him.
Constitutional changes point to one of the reasons. Just a few years ago the AKP argued in favour of changing the whole of the constitution that had been brought in by the military coup of 1980.
Particularly offensive are the first four articles, which stress “Turkishness”. Also according to the constitution’s preamble, it “cannot be amended and amendments cannot even be proposed”.
The whole constitution is a major obstacle to a peaceful solution to the Kurdish issue. Now the constitution remains almost completely unchanged—and Erdogan has suspended the peace process and returned to all-out war with the Kurds.
The sense of stability and wellbeing engendered by the peace process is a distant memory.
The years of strong economic growth are quickly and visibly fading. There is no deep crisis in Turkey but it is looming—and this further erodes popular satisfaction with the government.
Since the failed military coup attempt in July last year, the government has used a state of emergency to summarily arrest and imprison tens of thousands.
It has also sack 130,000 state employees and civil servants. This has created an atmosphere of fear and a sense that justice is being trampled upon, even among many government supporters.
Elections for the new presidency will be held in 2019—nothing changes for two years.
But what is changing is that Erdogan’s base is not as solid as it was and he does not look as invincible as he did. He will have two years of problems, with war in the Kurdish provinces, Turkish troops in Syria and a working class hit by a worsening crisis.