The referendum is over and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
secured a narrow win for the “Yes” campaign, heralding a new era for the entire country.
However, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) has appealed to the Supreme Election Board (YSK) for the annulment of the referendum on the grounds that it violated the law by controversially deeming unsealed ballot papers as valid, thus leading to question marks over the result’s accuracy. Although the annulment of the polls is not expected, questions over the legitimacy of one of Turkey’s most historic referendums will linger for a long time.
Moreover, these questions will not preoccupy only Turkish citizens and opposition groups who voted “No” in the referendum, they will also preoccupy Turkey’s partners in Europe, particularly the European Union, the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe
(OSCE) and the Council of Europe.
Statements and reports issued from these institutions, as well as from individual countries, all underline this very fact, which of course has the potential to further fuel tension between Turkey and these institutions and countries.
Unfortunately, this situation is likely to frustrate any pragmatic plans from some members of the Turkish government to urgently fix ties with the EU in order to return to normalcy and a business-as-usual mode.
Apart from individual disputes with a number of European countries like Germany and the Netherlands, Ankara
recently sparred with the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission over the latter’s report stating that the constitutional amendments would lead Turkey to autocracy. Many in the EU have interpreted the content of this report as Turkey’s distancing itself from the Copenhagen Criteria and therefore losing ground as a full membership candidate.
This report will be in use from now on, especially in the event that Brussels attempts to revise future phases Turkey’s EU accession process.
Another more recent row is with the OSCE over its election mission’s report on the referendum. The OSCE said it detected serious irregularities and imbalances, bluntly referring to them in its interim report and thus drawing a harsh reaction from President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
and other officials.
A potential third dispute is expected between Turkey and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe
(PACE), which will vote whether to establish a monitoring mechanism on Turkey over serious democratic deficiencies observed in the country. Being aware of this possibility, EU Minister Ömer Çelik tried to distract the attention of the PACE to Turkey’s ongoing fight against terrorism, calling on it to show solidarity with Ankara
and the Turkish Parliament, which was bombed during last year’s failed coup.
However, amid all this, nobody is questioning why the Turkish government has not yet formed a promised commission to probe the complaints of thousands of people over the massive crackdown and purges in the aftermath of the failed July 2016 coup, although a decree was issued on it upon a promise made to the Council of Europe
in late January. It is also beyond question that there are more than a dozen parliamentarians behind bars in today’s Turkey, including the co-leaders of parliament’s third biggest party.
This reality is surely in violation of the principle of representative parliamentary democracy.
All these problems are structural and need to be addressed adequately. In fact, the April 16 referendum result provides a very suitable ground for President Erdoğan and his strong AKP government to deal with these problems. Half of Turkey has shown its advocacy of democracy, human rights, the rule of law and ties with the EU. They demand that their rulers also uphold these very values.
Erdoğan’s realization of this fact, perhaps changing his strategic outlook on Turkey’s EU vision, could not only help him regain the hearts of the “No” camp, it would also help fix broken ties with Europe. Otherwise, merely a minor change in rhetoric towards the EU and European leaders, or a return to pragmatic diplomacy by covert threats over ongoing migrant cooperation, is unlikely to yield positive results for Turkey.