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Opinion: Turkey's new era as Erdogan takes it all

April 17, 2017

It wasn't a landslide, but President Erdogan got what he wanted. As the AKP celebrates the win, many questions are unanswered, DW's Seda Serdar writes. Was the voting fair? And is election season over or just beginning?

Türkei Referendum | Jubel
Image: picture alliance/AP Photo/E. Gurel

Turkey is no longer at a crossroads. A new era has begun. Fifty-one percent of Turkish citizens voted "yes" in the referendum, paving the way to a presidential system alla turca. By doing so, these voters handed President Erdogan and whomever succeeds him ultimate power. However, considering how many resources the AKP had, the level of "yes" votes points to some interesting dynamics.

Read more: A dvidided Turkey mourns, celebrates referendum results

First, the pact with Devlet Bahceli, leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), didn't prove to be as lucrative as Erdogan had hoped for. The opposition within the MHP was more powerful than both AKP and Bahceli wanted to believe. Could a new party emerge that would create deeper cracks within Bahceli's MHP? It sure doesn't seem to be out of the question. 

Erdogan's victory in the referendum

Second, it is important not to forget that the referendum took place during a state of emergency. The AKP had all the tools and financial advantages of the government, plus power over the media. But it managed to get only 51 percent of the votes. And lest we forget, they lost the capital, Ankara, as well as cities like Adana, Antalya and even Istanbul, which had been an AKP stronghold during the November 2015 general elections and 2014 presidential elections.

Read more: What you need to know about the Turkish referendum

Fair win or not?

Just as the votes were being counted, the High Electoral Board (YSK) stated that ballots without the official stamps would be counted. This, of course, quickly gave the impression of an unfair maneuver.

Read more: Opposition plans to challenge referendum result

Türkei Referendum Auszählung
Supporters of a 'no' vote have alleged voter fraudImage: picture alliance/AA/B. Ozkan

The opposition will do everything in its power to dispute the referendum and to have the votes recounted where they believe manipulation took place. Simultaneously, videos and images that have gone viral on social media raise a similar question.

The government must take these concerns into serious consideration, especially given that the result was so close and the amendments will have such a crucial impact on the future of democracy in Turkey. However, for AKP the only thing that seemed to matter is that they managed to get a "yes" vote. 

New ballots on the horizon

AKP leaders repeatedly stated that the new system would come into force in 2019, but talk of early elections is already underway. Why wait to implement the decision of the people? The argument has long been pronounced, and Erdogan doesn't want to lose anymore time before he is once again officially reunited with his party. This means that election season is most likely just beginning. 

Even though one man has gained tremendous power as a result of the referendum, almost half of the population opted against this. In other words, President Erdogan is faced with a highly polarized society. The unity speech given on the evening of the referendum is a far cry from beginning to unite the deep divides caused over the years.

Erdogan actually has a lot on his plate: Syria, the delicate relationship with Turkey's allies, the refugee issue and the Kurdish issue, to name a few. Instead of focusing on these burning topics, it seems that he would rather prioritize rapidly stabilizing his newly gained power.