Last Sunday, Turkey went to the polls to vote on whether to approve 18 proposed amendments to the Turkish constitution that had been put forward by the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). If implemented, the proposals would see the office of Prime Minister abolished and the existing parliamentary system replaced by a presidential system, with the president also being given more control over the appointment of senior judges. Those in favour of a ‘Yes’ vote argued that the changes were necessary for a strong and stable Turkey, and believe that an executive presidency – a president able to make important decisions independently – would bring an end to the unstable coalition governments (governments formed as a result of the temporary unions of different parties) that dominated Turkish politics from the 1960s up until 2002. The ‘No’ campaign have argued that the proposals would concentrate too much power in the hands of the President and that the proposed system would resemble an ‘elected dictatorship’ with no ability to hold the executive to account, basically leading to a form of ‘democratic suicide’
Both sides of the campaign have been accused of using divisive and extreme rhetoric, with President Erdoğan accusing all ‘No’ voters of being terrorists siding with the 2016 failed coup plotters. The campaign was marred by allegations of state suppression against ‘No’ campaigners, while the ‘Yes’ campaign were able to make use of state facilities and funding to organise rallies and campaign events. Leading members of the ‘No’ campaign, which included many high-profile former members of the MHP, were subjected to both violence and campaign restrictions.
The final result of the referendum was almost too close to call, with the ‘Yes’ campaign claiming a narrow victory having won slightly less than 52% of the vote. However, even before the official result, the opposition was crying foul play and alleging vote rigging. There have been calls both from international observers and from within Turkey for an official inquiry into the allegations and even for a re-run of the vote.
The sad truth of the matter is that the vote has revealed a deeply divided society, split along partisan lines and no longer able to find common ground. In this sense, Turkey is simply the latest in a long line of countries split down the middle by politics. The deep divisions caused by last year’s Brexit vote here in the UK have yet to heal, while the United States seems to be existing in a state of cultural civil war at present. The Netherlands, France, Germany, Russia and many other countries are suffering similarly and it’s at times like this that you need leaders to strike a note of reconciliation and to try and build bridges by reaching out to their opponents. Sadly, however, they rarely do.
This result of all of this is that we all end up picking up the pieces. Families fall out and stop talking to each other; tensions rise on the streets and sometimes violence erupts. For the sake of all my friends in Turkey, I hope with all my heart that that’s not what happens there.
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- Which other countries do think are deeply divided at the moment? Why?
- Why do you think it has become so hard for so many people to find common ground?
- When did people in your country last go to the polls? Why? What was the result?
- Have you ever fallen out with anyone in your family? Why?
- Have you ever heard any stories of vote rigging? When? What happened?