Turkey Referendum 2010

A constitutional referendum was held in Turkey on September 12. At stake in this referendum was the ratification by voters of 26 constitutional amendments to the 1982 Constitutions, amendments which will significantly change the balance of power in Turkey.

These amendments include more protection for labour, including the recognition of unions and the right to strike, and also expands the right for collective bargaining to government employees. In addition, increased rights to personal privacy will be safeguarded in the constitution, and an article which prevents military coup leaders from facing trial or legal reprisal will be repealed. The power of military courts will be curtailed, removing their authority to try civilians in peacetime. Finally, the Constitutional Court will be revamped so that it has 17 (instead of 15) members, three of whom are appointed by Parliament while the President nominates the rest. The procedure to ban political parties, one of the Turkish’s judiciary’s most important power, has also been amended so that members of banned political parties remain in Parliament and aren’t kicked out as they were in the past.

The background to these amendments is a long-running desire by Turkey’s (civilian) moderate Islamist government led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to curtail the Turkish military’s power over politics. The military, which sees itself as the guardian of Kemalism and Turkey’s secular constitution, has long been opposed to Erdoğan’s policies which they see as going against Turkish secularism. They tried to prevent Erdoğan’s nominee for President, Abdullah Gul, from being elected in 2007, to which Erdoğan responded by amending the constitution to allow for direct election of the President (the referendum passed rather easily). These amendments, which would curtail the military’s influence further and make it harder for Turkey’s Kemalist judges to ban Erdoğan’s AKP (as they tried to do in 2009), were keenly supported by the AKP. It should be no surprise, however, that the opposition, both parliamentary and military, opposed these changes.

Here are the results of the referendum approving the amendments:

Yes 57.88%
N0 42.12%
turnout 73.71%

The results, while a major victory for the government and another defeat for the old Kemalist politicos of yesterday, does highlight that the government still has to deal with significant opposition from the ballot boxes. The numbers on this referendum, with 42% taking the position of the Kemalist opposition, are also quite a bit higher than the numbers from the 2007 referendum, in which only 31% of voters backed the opposition; meaning that discontent with the government is edging up, as seen more recently in the 2009 local elections in which the AKP did rather poorly all things considered.

It shouldn’t be surprising that the highest numbers for the NO side were all found in the strongholds of the opposition. The coastal region of Turkey along the Mediterranean, open to European secular influences and more urbane than the interior, have always been the strongest region for the CHP (the main opposition party, which was also Ataturk’s party), along with European Turkey itself where the NO side got some of its highest support. The coastal region is also one of the main bases for the third party in parliament, the far-right crypto-fascist MHP which is strongly linked to the military (though less militantly secular than the CHP). Isolated in a sea of green, the island of red in western mainland Turkey is Eskişehir, a major industrial area and base of the DSP, a left-wing ally of the CHP and equally as Kemalist. As for the deeply red outcast in the middle of deeply green eastern Turkey, it is the province of Tunceli (81% NO), which distinguishes itself from the rest of interior Turkey by the fact that the Alevis – a liberal current of Islam – form a majority of the populations. The Alevis, officially Shi’a, are known for their values of gender equality, religious tolerance and love/respect for others. The Alevis, which are key supporters of Kemalist secularism, have been the AKP’s weakest demographic, and thus Tunceli has been the weakest point of the AKP in 2002 and 2007 (only 12% of the vote in 2007). One will note that Turkish Kurdistan distinguishes itself by its massive support for the amendments, giving the wrong impression that Kurds backed the changes, which isn’t true because turnout in these provinces were low, in some cases extremely low (9.1% in Hakkâri, for example); meaning that only Turks voted while Kurds didn’t turn out. Aside from that, support was also high in central Anatolia, the AKP’s main electoral base; though Istanbul, which is often portrayed as Turkey’s bustling western city, also supported the changes (or so I assume, given that the province of Istanbul isn’t limited to the city proper).

There are two conflicting interpretations of the consequences of this result. Those whose political sympathies in Turkey lie more with the government than the military will argue that the amendments go a long way to make Turkey a democratic country and that the curtailing of the military is a good thing for Turkish democracy. Those hardcore Kemalists or otherwise supporters of a secular Turkey, by definition wary of anything the AKP does, will argue that this is the latest step in Erdoğan and the AKP’s goal at making Turkey an Islamic republic, or, less alarmingly, a step by Erdoğan to seize control of the judiciary to cement the AKP’s place in Turkish politics and to significantly reduce the power of the opposition judges and generals. Arguably, though, the military does still have the power to stage a coup if ever (or whenever) Erdoğan or the AKP tries to move Turkey closer towards an Islamic republic.


Posted on September 14, 2010, in Referendums, Turkey. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Was it close in İstanbul?

  2. I’ve never heard of the Alevi before. The things you learn when looking at election maps.

  3. It was 55-45 yes in Istanbul and 54-46 in Ankara. A look by district (http://referandum.ntvmsnbc.com/index.html) shows that the wealthy neighborhoods/suburbs of Istanbul voted against (though the central core voted in favour?) while working-class faubourgs like Arnavutköy were heavily in favour. Similarly in Ankara, Çankaya, the central district, went 71-29 for the NO.

    BTW, Artvin Province (the lone red province on the black sea) has a big Muslim Georgian minority…

    Wiki has a list of districts with generally helpful articles here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_districts_of_Istanbul

  4. It should also be noted that the Alevis are heretics.

  5. I think that should be seen “are seen as heretics by the Sunni Muslim majority”.

  6. The yes/no-map gives the wrong impression that Kurds backed the changes, while turnout was very low there.

    May be a tournout map as well as a yes/no-map would be useful?

  7. I have absolutely no sympathy for Erdogan and the AKP, but this referendum (whatever its real goal might be) is rather undeniably a step toward a more democratic Turkey.

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