Deciphering Turkey's constitutional referendum from Indonesia

Turkish state has just survived from two tutelary regimes. The first is secular-Kemalist tutelage and the second is Gulenist tutelage,

Deciphering Turkey's constitutional referendum from Indonesia

Mohamad Radytio Nugrahanto-Indonesia

April 16, 2017 was a historic day not just for Turkish people, but also for the Muslim world. For the first time since Gallipoli War, a Muslim group has successfully defies western establishment into achieving their own victory. This is despite what most in the so-called western establishment tried to portrait about the referendum in Turkey.

Indeed, as an Indonesian rarely a day goes by without witnessing Indonesian media quoting western media in defining the referendum as a democratic vs. dictatorship choice, or how the referendum would pile powers of executive branch to the President, despite Turkish sources have excellently explaining the true essence of the referendum, which is to eradicates tutelage and clearly defining what is and what is not within the executive authority, a clear departure from 1982 military-crafted Constitution.

What was more strange, as soon as the referendum final results announced, the same establishment and certain western media portrayed it as a polarization, ironically forget that just days earlier they were claiming there is little freedom in Turkey which would be resulting in “wide-margin support for the yes campaign” and claiming how the referendum was “rigged” by Erdogan, unashamedly taking over the mantle of “Turkish opposition” despite the referendum was free and fair on all international standards like the previous elections in Turkey.

One argument that may stand out and also reached Indonesia however, is the narrow margin achieved by the “yes” option. Despite right-leaning western media consider Brexit referendum result as “resounding” even with advantage of only 3 % margin and left-leaning establishment dancing on the street with Austria’s Van Der Bellen’s similar margin of victory over fascist’s Norbert Hofer, the same right-left in the west cries foul and try to delegitimize the results, claiming “ a 3 % margin achieved by yes campaign is not enough for such a big change “ and try to spread what in their view is the claim that “Turkish opposition has a moral high ground”, bypassing a verdict just has been delivered by 51.4 % of Turkish electorates, with 86 % voter participation, a turnout that may never be achieved in any country in the western hemisphere.

My fellow Indonesians and many ordinary people throughout the globe would be forgiven to think the same, having heard few or nothing at all from the yes side. The yes side, having been accused of enjoying what some claimed as “incumbency advantage” over the opposition, was actually sustained an uphill battle and a landscape of issues unprecedented by any other referendum campaign in any modern democracies’ history.

Are these just excuses? While it is relative to call something excuses or post-mortem analysis, what absolute is the reality that happened in Turkey.

First, it is in everybody’s knowledge that most international, western-based media are hostile towards current Turkish government. While it is naïve to say media should be thoroughly objective, the way the media portrayed the referendum or the “yes” camp were more in line with an opposition bulletin than news coverage. The same media accusing pro-government narrative as propaganda were astonishingly almost never give coverage to yes camp’s point of view. This was coupled by internal media who differs from some viewpoint painted them as being “oppressed by Erdogan”, were conducting free coverage of the referendum from both point of view. No-leaning media like Sozcu, T24 and Hurriyet were conducting their coverage vigorously and sometimes with profanity-filled headlines (dictatorship, Erdogan the thief, referendum for fools) that would surely disgust many Indonesians. Just consider that word “Erdogan” replaced by “Jokowi”, done by Indonesian media and you will find people raiding these media offices and asked them to be prosecuted, things that didn’t happened in Turkey. This, coupled with overall balance of power in local Turkish media between yes and no camps and Turkish voters’ high social media literacy where they can pick news information freely, actually put the yes camp on defense. Internationally, this is the equivalent of U.S. Elections where most were tilted against Donald Trump.

Second, unlike other current constitutional referendums which doesn’t have meaningful foreign interest (Armenian constitutional referendum) or those who get foreign actors’ moral supports (Italian constitutional referendum), Turkish referendum’s yes camp were virtually left without any major support and many major opponents. Foreign actors’ support are actually important, other than because their abilities to sway local and international opinion, also to influence events through their soft-power. Italian referendum, which some of its changes sometimes being more extreme than those proposed in Turkey with electoral laws benefitting ruling and winning party and, unprecedented since Mussolini’s era, centralization of powers at the hand of the prime minister were given full-fledge support by the western establishment. Former president Obama’s visits and invitation toward then-prime minister Matteo Renzi and his open surrogacy for Renzi’s yes camp, supports from EU figures such as Juncker, Merkel and Hollande and virtually all western media establishment’s propagation of the yes camp for the sake of “Italian stability” were eventually failed to give the yes camp a victory. Instead, verdict given by Italian people were decidedly 60 % in the no camp. In Turkey’s case the only thing didn’t commit by European political and media leaders were joining the no campaign rally. If Turkish yes camp’s attitude said to be behind this hostility, it is the obstacle and earlier hostility against them such yes rallies’ bans that make the matters worse. Other than Azerbaijan and some Balkan countries, Turkish yes camp has virtually no mainstream defenders in international arena. Their messages, opinion and perspective were almost unheard in its purity.

The third is economic downturn. Turkish yes camp did campaign on projected economic progress or expected development as a result of the changes. Yet Turkey, who just experienced a failed military coup d’état and still receiving spillovers of economic crisis-slowdown, suffers decline on its growth and employment rate. Its current growth rate, despite being more than double the overall EU growth rate at 2.6 % in 2016, is way below growth rate during 2010 referendum that had 5-6 % growth rate. It experiences growing current account deficit, relatively high unemployment rate at 13 % and have just recovered from low level of Consumer Confidence Index. It would be deviating from reality if Turkish voters were said to be influenced by shortsighted thinking.

The fourth one is current security situation within Turkey. A key point of contention among western ‘establishment’ were the State of Emergency, where it said to be disadvantageous towards the no camp. But while yes camp in many European countries were facing campaign bans, Turkish no camp were free to conduct their campaign throughout Turkey. If any obstacle the no campaign faced in conservative provinces or Kurdish area was to the same level as obstacles faced by yes campaign in secular and coastal area. As a matter of fact, the State of Emergency itself enabled the referendum to be held. Over the past year, Turkish streets were full of bombing threats from ISIS, PKK and DHKP-C terrorists. Thousands of people have been detained and arrested with connection of planning bomb attacks throughout Turkey. The wave of bombing itself just stopped earlier this year, in conjunction with 6 months long implementation of the Emergency. Furthermore, a small bomb has just exploded in Kurdish area less than 4 days before the referendum. Kurdish-Communist terroristic activities in Southeast are still raging, and with number of refugees handled and stay inside Turkey are swelling into more than 3 million as compared to 1.6-1.8 million refugees throughout the EU coupled with civil wars on 2 neighbouring countries on its 900 km-long southern border, it is not extraordinary that the yes vote, which represented the government, has eventually won; what is amazing and extraordinary is that the referendum can still be held at all.

The fifth is voter’s psychology. Some pro-government pundits said that undecided and conservative-nationalists voters who eventually cast vote for “no” were partially influenced by fake news. But there were other components influencing their stance.

Turkish state has just survived from two tutelary regimes. The first regime is secular-Kemalist tutelage, which indirectly held strings on Turkish state and civil society activities for more than 75 years. The second is Gulenist tutelage, whose followers and actors had spread throughout veins of Turkish state and society for about 20 years, sometimes by cooperating with Kemalist tutelage and sometimes by deceiving AK Party as one of the largest actors in Turkish civil society. These decades long influence and powers cannot be easily erased, at least from public’s memory and psychology. Most Turks have just passed a period of trauma, from the unraveling of Gulenist networks to the failed coup and Syrian civil war, within last few years they witnessed the changes and shocks not seen in decades. It is not easy to ask the Turkish voters to support another change. Turks are not cowards, they just eventually becoming risk averse.

In about 1000 years of its history in Anatolian homeland, Turkish nation had never got a chance to fully determining what kind of governmental system they want. The Ottoman Sultanate was founded based on elders’ pledge of allegiance to Osman I and his successors. The Turkish nation was never consulted by Kemal Ataturk on the political system when the modern Republic was founded; it was imposed on them by Kemal-led parliament. The Erdogan-led decision to hold a referendum was the first time in its history that Turkish nation is given a chance to exercise their right of self-determination. A determination to basically change an overall governmental system that has been in place since the founding of the modern Republic, a decision that may very well determine the Nation’s narrative for another millennium.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 23 Mayıs 2017, 00:45