If you have a Turkish friend, colleague, or neighbor, the upcoming referendum is probably all they have been talking about for the past couple months. If passed, this referendum will transform Turkey’s parliamentary system into a presidential system, allowing President Erdogan to officially turn Turkey into a one-man republic. The Republic is facing an existential crisis and may lose its democratic structure once and for all. Turkey has arguably had a de facto presidential system since the forced resignation of Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in May 2016, who had been repeatedly criticized by pro-government sources for failing to provide his full support to the presidential agenda. He was replaced by Binali Yildirim, a loyalist who has worked with President Erdogan since his days as the Mayor of Istanbul in the mid-1990s. Additionally, the democratically elected co-leaders of the Pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag, have been jailed on charges of assisting terrorism. While eliminating some opposition forces through arbitrary detentions, the regime has also successfully allied itself with the leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) in order to align conservative bases of AKP and MHP. Despite scattered voices of opposition from the MHP base, these two parties have shown their willingness to work together to ensure the successful passage of the referendum. It is imperative to understand that continued assaults on the Kurdish Party, the overall ineffectiveness of the secular Republican People’s Party (CHP), and the newly established alliance with MHP allowed Erdogan to become the sole arbiter of Turkish politics by establishing authority over 58 percent of all parliamentary seats.
This referendum is President Erdogan’s last get-out-of-jail-free card and it employs a religious nationalist rhetoric to distract Turkish citizens from substantial problems facing the country. Since 2013, Turkish policymaking has been unpredictable and highly ineffective. The slowing economy and prevalence of Daesh terrorism are two of the most pressing problems, which continue to degrade the quality of life for 78 million Turks. Despite twenty-four consecutive terrorist attacks since January 2016 and slow economic growth, the Turkish government’s focus has continued to be on amending the constitution and vesting more power in the executive branch. Those who have been campaigning against the referendum are hopeful it will fail, especially given t , which show ‘no’ votes in the lead. There is an expectation that the Turkish people will refuse a one-man system and protect the liberal principles of their 94-year-old Republic. These expectations may prove to be unrealistic if results of early international voting are any indication.
There are 5.5 million Turkish citizens who live outside of the Republic and 2.8 million of these Turks are eligible voters. Over the past week, 1.4 million Turkish expats cast their referendum votes in 57 countries. These voters represent approximately three percent of the overall number of eligible voters. According to an early report released by the MAK polling group which is known for their pro-government bias, 62 percent of Turkish expats voted ‘yes’ while 38 percent voted ‘no.’ This report is in stark contrast to many survey results released by nonpartisan pollsters. There is little alternative information available in regard to these votes and it is likely that MAK is intentionally inflating its numbers in order to discourage members of the Turkish opposition.
Regardless of the accuracy of these numbers, it is also likely that President Erdogan’s administration will utilize various tactics to rig the referendum. Based on the data aggregated by the Election Forensics Toolkit website, a statistical tool created by funding from the United States Agency for International Development, there are statistical anomalies in past legislative and presidential Turkish elections. The probability of fraud, according to USAID’s data on eight countries, is usually only relevant to one percent of all participating districts. However, in case of Turkey, potentially fraudulent activities become three times more likely. In addition, the largest nonprofit organization in Turkey, “Oy ve Ötesi” (“Votes and Beyond”), which recruits and assigns volunteers to polling stations in order to report and stop election fraud has announced that they will not participate in the referendum. With all these factors and the referendum in less than a week, Erdogan will win at the expense of Turkey’s future.