By Javad Heirannia

Erdogan’s narrow victory will split Turkish population: professor

April 19, 2017

TEHRAN – A former senior research fellow at Harvard University is of the opinion that a narrow victory by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Sunday's referendum that gave him sweeping new powers will polarize the Turkish population. 

 “The narrow margin of victory will split the population and will further polarize it,” Professor Farhang Jahanpour tells the Tehran Times in an exclusive interview.
Following is the text of the interview:

Q: The Turkish constitutional referendum ended up by Erdogan claiming victory by the slimmest of margins. The "yes" campaign narrowly won 51.4 percent of the vote against 48.6 for "No". What message might the referendum's weak result convey to Erdogan?

A: First of all, it should be stressed that Turkey is one of Iran’s closest neighbours, allies and trading partners, with which Iran has had friendly relations for many centuries. Indeed, the border between Iran and Turkey established after the Battle of Chaldiran in 1514 has been one of the most peaceful borders for both Iran and Turkey ever since. Therefore, what happens in Turkey is of great interest to Iran, and vice-versa. 
It should be remembered that after the establishment of the Republic of Turkey in 1923, the victory of the Justice and Development Party led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2002 has brought a remarkable measure of unprecedented stability and economic development to Turkey, putting an end to 15 years of coalition governments. 

He [Erdogan] should realize that he has a slight margin of support, and he has to reach out a hand to the other half of the opposition and move towards reconciliation.Under the secular governments that had ruled Turkey since Kemal Ataturk's presidency (1923-38) there were almost regular military coup d’états roughly every ten years: in 1960; in 1971 and the so-called “guided democracy”; in 1980; and in 1997, the unofficial military coup that forced Necmettin Erbakan’s government out of power. Yet, since the establishment of the Justice and Development Party Turkey had experienced greater stability before Turkey’s involvement in Syria and the 15th July 2016 failed coup.

Q: Will the outcome of the referendum strengthen democracy in Turkey or not?

A: One of the most fundamental principles of democracy is the separation of powers – the executive, the legislative and the judiciary. This means that none of those powers should be able to dominate the other two. In mature democracies the separation of powers prevents any one person achieving dictatorial powers. 
Since the election of President Donald Trump in America who sadly has authoritarian tendencies, we have seen that the independence of the other two powers has clipped his wings and has prevented him from going into excess. For instance, independent judges have twice blocked his ban on travel from some majority Muslim countries, and when he was trying to overturn so-called Obamacare he could not get it past Congress, despite the fact that it has a Republican majority, and had to abandon his plan for the time being. 
Therefore, the separation of powers is essential for a healthy democracy. There are different forms of democratic governments in the world and they function very well despite their differences. For instance, Britain is a parliamentary democracy and the leader of the biggest party in Parliament is elected prime minister, while the United States has a republican system where the president is elected independently of Congress. 
So, the form of governments is not very important, so long as they function on democratic principles and are not dominated by individuals. Turkey is moving mainly from a British parliamentary system to an American or French presidential one. So, the main problem is not whether the system is presidential or parliamentary, but what it means in the Turkish context.

Q: What does the outcome of the referendum represent for Turkey?

A: The referendum has already produced a number of potential challenges and poses a danger for the future of Turkish democracy. 
The first problem is that the margin of victory, if indeed it is finally confirmed, is very small. Already there have been a number of challenges to the outcome of the referendum. The main opposition, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), has said that they would demand a recount of up to 40 percent of the vote, alleging that “illegal acts” occurred during the vote and that there were up to 2.5 million “problematic ballots”. 

“I believe that the American government should be the last to complain about Turkey, as democratic principles have experienced a nosedive since President Trump has come to power.”The pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) has also claimed that there have been examples of vote fraud. Certainly, the access of opposition parties to the media was more restricted compared to that of the government. 
Secondly, Erdogan lost in the big cities, including Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir, and received a majority only in rural and provincial areas.
Thirdly, the votes have been divided on the basis of ethnic divisions, with the large Kurdish minority voting substantially against the change.
Fourthly, the new constitution has a number of anti-democratic clauses. It gives the president the power to dismiss the parliament and appoint the senior judges. This will put the executive branch above the legislature and the judiciary, which means that it concentrates too much power in the president’s hands.
Fifthly, with the powers that the new constitution grants the president, the government will be turned into an elected dictatorship, and not a true democracy. With the president acting as both the head of government and the head of state there is every reason to worry about his partisan views.
Apart from all these points, the main source of worry is the character of Mr Erdogan himself. During the past few years he has demonstrated a tendency towards growing authoritarian rule. Since the failed coup, Erdogan has declared a state of emergency, which is still continuing, and has suspended many civil liberties. 
He has by decree dismissed or detained more than 100,000 people, including judges, military personnel, politicians, university professors, government employees and journalists. At the moment, Turkey is the country with the largest number of journalists in jail. This has forced the press either to face draconian censorship or to engage in self-censorship.

 Q: What might be the effects of the "yes" vote victory on Erdogan's domestic policy?

A: The narrow margin of victory will split the population and will further polarize it, especially as the referendum was carried out under a state of emergency. The more educated younger, secular and urbanized populations will be further alienated from the government, as it seems that Erdogan has won mainly as the result of the support of the less educated, Sunni, rural heartland. 
He should realize that he has a slight margin of support, and he has to reach out a hand to the other half of the opposition and move towards reconciliation. Otherwise, the winner takes all tendency will turn many Turks against him. 

 Q: What will be the influence of the "yes" vote victory on Erdogan's foreign policy?

A: This victory will give Erdogan greater confidence to act more independently and perhaps with fewer restraints in foreign policy. The West has already condemned the referendum as a sign of greater authoritarian rule. Therefore, the question of accession to the EU will be postponed indefinitely, especially if he gives in to popular demand to restore the death penalty that is regarded as totally contrary to EU membership. 
The referendum will also affect the deal that Turkey has reached with Europe to help stem the tide of refugees to European countries in return for three billion euros annually. On the whole, the relationship between Turkey and Europe will deteriorate, especially in view of the harsh language that Erdogan has used against some European countries that refused to allow Turkish ministers to campaign in favour of the referendum in Europe.

Q: U.S. State Department spokesperson Mark Toner had a quite negative reaction to the referendum's result, saying the U.S is concerned over the level of democracy in its ally Turkey. It seems as if there has not been much improvement in The U.S-Turkey relationship since Trump took office. Will the aftermath of the referendum continue political problems between the two countries?

A: I believe that the American government should be the last to complain about Turkey, as democratic principles have experienced a nosedive since President Trump has come to power. Trump has shown a tendency to support autocratic regimes, as his cosy relations with the Arab dictatorships in the Persian Gulf and his warm reception granted to the Egyptian military dictator Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi demonstrate. I believe that Turkey and America need each other and the referendum will not affect the relationship between the two countries. However, America is very worried about the growing closeness between Turkey and Russia.

Q: How will the "yes" vote affect the Iran-Turkey relationship?

A: Again, I do not think that the outcome of the referendum will affect those relations very much, especially as Turkey is moving closer to an Iranian system of government. However, it all depends on the policies that Turkey adopts towards Syria and the Middle East as a whole. 
In the past, Iran and Turkey have done very well in separating their areas of differences from their mutual interests. A close relationship between them is in both countries’ interest. In fact, the Syrian crisis will not be resolved without close cooperation between Iran and Turkey. If they can cooperate over Syria, there is every possibility that political relations and economic exchanges between the two countries can grow much faster than before. 

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