Turkish referendum – Victory for the AKP

By Juliet Altan

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Shimon Peres - World Economic Forum Annual Meeting Davos 2009
Photo: World Economic Forum

Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey attacks Israeli President Peres over Israel’s assault on Gaza at the World Economic Forum, January 2009.

On Sunday 12 September 2010, the 30th anniversary of the bloody military coup in 1980, Turkey voted to accept constitutional amendments that have widely been viewed as moving the country away from the grip of the army.

The turnout was 73.71%, of which almost 58% approved the reform package, whilst just over 42% rejected it. There was a high abstention rate of almost 27%, mainly as a result of the call by the main Kurdish party BDP for a boycott of the referendum.

Since the election of the AKP (Justice and Development Party) government in 2002, and its re-election on a strong vote in 2007, there has been a power struggle between the army and the government in Turkey. There were several attempts, some covert and some very overt, to destabilise the government over the last few years.

There were a number of coup plots revealed by sections of the media, especially by the Taraf newspaper; and the failed attempt by the constitutional court to ban the AKP in 2008, only by the vote of one judge.

The constitutional package voted on in the referendum included a number of articles that will:

·        improve equality for women, children, older and disabled people through positive action,

·        introduce much improved trade union rights including ending the ban on collective bargaining for civil and public servants,

·        lift the constitutional barrier to the creation of an ombudsman to whom individual citizens can apply,

·        pave the way for criminal acts committed by the military to be prosecuted in civilian courts,

·        introduce the right for Parliament to appoint 3 constitutional court judges, increasing the number of judges from 11 to 17,

·        allow individual applications to the constitutional court, and

·        end impunity for the 1980 coup leaders.

These are very significant changes in a country that during the military coup on 27 May 1960 hanged Adnan Menderes, the last prime minister who attempted to challenge the stranglehold of the army on Turkish politics. The result is a definite boost for the AKP, in the run up to the general election next summer, which could lead to a historic third term for the party.

There were three main sides in the referendum campaign:

The ‘yes’ campaign was mainly led by the AKP, with a small section of the left intellectuals and the Turkish chapter of the SWP arguing for ‘it’s not enough but yes’.

The ‘no’ campaign saw the coalition of the MHP (Nationalist Movement Party, the fascists) and CHP (Republican People’s Party, the so-called social democrats) deepen. Both these main opposition parties are in Parliament and are virulently pro-army; the latter under the guise of protecting secularism which they claim is in danger from a ‘sinister Islamist movement, i.e. the AKP’; and the former making no secret of its fascist tendencies, in particular through its ability to mobilise masses in the street in some provinces, and attack minorities such as Kurds.

The boycott campaign was led by the main Kurdish party, the BDP (Peace and Democracy Party) with close links to the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party), which declared a cease-fire during the pre-referendum and Ramadan period. This campaign was successful in that participation in Kurdish provinces was very low, for example in Hakkari turnout was 9% and in Diyarbakir 35%. During the campaign, BDP tried to gain some assurances from the government for the resolution of the Kurdish issue, and for the introduction of further constitutional changes in the near future. The prime minister stated before the referendum that there would be further constitutional changes if these were passed and the government was re-elected next summer.

The response to the referendum results from other countries has been welcoming, and the Turkish stock market responded very positively as well. The enlargement commissioner for the EU Stefan Fule said that the changes moved Turkey towards joining the EU. The Guardian editorial stated a ‘quiet revolution’ was taking place in Turkey.

Clearly, the AKP has a strong base in Turkey. Over their eight years in power, they have introduced universal health care, stabilised the economy, introducing stringent bank control measures which have cushioned the Turkish economy from the impact of the current financial crisis, led on an ‘alliance of civilisations’ with others in a direct challenge to the neo-liberal ‘clash of civilisations’ and played a positive role in the Middle East in particular in relation to Iran, along with Brazil, and Palestine.

It is also laughable that some attempt to claim that the AKP is attempting to bring in Iranian style ‘religious fundamentalism’ to Turkey. In their time in government, their attempt to end the ban on hijab in universities has been blocked and they have not further pursued this fight. The AKP can be characterised as petty-bourgeois, pro-business and pro-European, with the clear intention of making Turkey more significant in the region. Turkey has an important place as a G20 member and is currently a temporary member of the UN Security Council.

Over the next few months we will see how far the struggle against the coup plotters can go.