Turkey referendum shows secularism eroding – but still a potent force
Turkey's ruling party cast its referendum win as a vote of confidence for further democratic reforms. But the 42 percent 'no' vote signals a polarized nation.
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An end to unassailable state power?
But most at risk after Sunday’s vote were politics as they have been played in decades past, when state power exercised through the military and high court judges was an unassailable aspect of “Kemalism.” The referendum result means that Turkey's old guard can no longer use those levers in the same way.Skip to next paragraph
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“They don’t really have the credibility to resist the change,” says columnist Dagi, adding in an interview that the newly approved constitutional changes will further restrict their moves.
“Turkish politics has escaped from the domination of this Kemalist establishment – the CHP, the military, the high judiciary are not in a position to control events in Turkey,” says Dagi. “Simply as Turkey becomes more and more democratic, more and more plural and competitive, and engaged in the global world – it’s not a controllable environment."
In recent years, the AKP has battled the military and the judiciary, which along with the secular opposition has accused the AKP of secretly plotting to turn Turkey into an Islamist state. Instead, senior military officials – including some serving generals – have been arrested themselves for plotting to topple the government, in the course of a lengthy investigation known as Ergenekon.
The reforms approved on Sunday expanded the rights for women, children, and workers, but also – most controversially – the ability of elected officials to shape Turkey’s judiciary, which has been a thorn in the side of the AKP for nearly a decade.
The immunity of generals who carried out the 1980 coup was also lifted, though the vote itself came on precisely the 30th anniversary of the coup – and the day the statute of limitations expired.
Despite that apparent legal limit, on Monday rights groups in several cities began petitioning prosecutors to launch cases against the leaders of the coup, which ushered in a period of severe repression that included torture and executions.
Turkish editorials show range of responses
Turkish newspapers reflected a variety of views, like those expressed by voters on Sunday.
An editorial in the English-language Hurriyet Daily News said that both sides had “overstated” the significance of the vote.
“Those fearing a weakening of military authority as the harbinger of a sharia-based state have forgotten that the rise of political Islam in Turkey was engineered by the military itself after the 1980 coup,” the newspaper wrote. “Those who will celebrate Sunday’s victory as the capping of statist power or the emasculation of a ‘Kemalist elite’ risk disappointment.”
“Nobody can stand in the way of Erdogan now,” said Mr. Yilmaz. “What Turkey will see now is a series of steps that will turn him into [Russian Prime Minister Vladimir] Putin.”
Other analysts say there are limits.
“The referendum result is not an open check to the AK Party,” says Dagi. “It is an approval of a project of civilianization and democratization. AK Party cannot do whatever it wants, based on these results – no way.”
“If the AK Party reads this properly, they will proceed more aggressively with reform projects in Turkey,” such as questions with ethnic Kurds, and over Armenia and Cyprus, adds Mr. Dagi. “These results indicate (to) the AKP that they are free, supported by the people, to take these issues to a settlement.”