How Turkey's President Eked Out a Victory

2 MINS READApr 18, 2017 | 22:19 GMT
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How Turkey's President Eked Out a Victory

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on April 16 claimed a razor-thin victory in the constitutional referendum (51.4 percent voted "yes," a margin of victory of 1,379,934 votes) to overhaul the country's political system to favor the presidency, giving him the opportunity to consolidate his power. The European powers and the U.S. State Department reacted to the result largely by admonishing Erdogan's government for the way it controlled the media and intimidated the opposition in the lead-up to the vote. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), invited by Turkey to monitor the vote, said the referendum "did not live up to Council of Europe standards." Though the OSCE could not cite specific instances of fraud, it said a decision by Turkish electoral authorities to allow unstamped ballots to be counted contradicted electoral law.

On several occasions during the referendum campaign, Erdogan reacted to similar criticisms by European leaders by accusing them of using fascist rhetoric against Turkey and comparing them with Nazis. Though the Europeans stood aghast at his comments, the firebrand rhetoric evidently worked to galvanize the overseas support he needed to eke out a victory. In Germany, France, the Netherlands, Austria and Belgium, the "yes" vote led by a wide margin. (Farther abroad in the United Kingdom, United States, Australia and Canada, where Erdogan spent less political capital campaigning, the "no" vote dominated among Turkish expatriates.)

With the slim margin of victory, no doubt padded by Turkish voters in parts of Europe, Erdogan will now be able to dramatically expand his powers and extend his political tenure.

Still, the deep polarization of Turkey's electorate has been laid bare in the referendum, and Erdogan will tap into more potent currents of nationalism to maintain support among the half of the Turkish population that voted for the measure. As the leading "no" vote revealed in Turkey's three biggest metropolises — Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir — Erdogan knows he has little chance of bringing the secularized elite to his side. And so he will resort to more extraordinary measures to consolidate power while he still can.

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