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A ‘yes’ vote in Turkey

Winning 51.41 percent of the vote in a referendum held Sunday, it would seem that the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has emerged successful in its bid to win even more power than it currently enjoys.

But observers say the “razor thin” margin of the “Yes” votes over the “No” was narrower than expected. This, especially since the Erdogan forces pulled out all stops to convince Turkish voters to cast their ballots in favor of Erdogan’s expanded rule. Among the moves employed by his supporters were last-minute changes to the voting procedures, although the government claims the referendum was “conducted cleanly.”

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Foreign observers, representing a coalition of international bodies, said the voting took place on an “uneven playing field,” and voters were not provided with adequate information, opposition voices were muzzled and the rules were changed at the last minute. In response, the Turkish foreign ministry accused the observers of a “biased and prejudiced approach,” adding that the comment that the referendum was below international standards was “unacceptable.”

Meanwhile, thousands of protesters gathered on both sides of the Bosporus, which divides Istanbul into an Asian and European side, holding up placards and shouting anti-Erdogan slogans. A wire report says people were shouting, “We will not make you president” and “We are shoulder to shoulder against fascism” as they marched towards the offices of Turkey’s supreme election board. In cyberspace, protesters pushed the hashtag “#NoHasWon.”

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Opposition to Erdogan’s campaign to institutionalize broader powers—especially his plan to abolish Turkey’s system of parliamentary democracy and replace it with an executive presidency with sweeping powers—is centered on the country’s major cities—Ankara, Istanbul and Izmir. But apparently, Erdogan, who has been chipping away at Turkey’s democratic system for years, still keeps a strong grip in the rural areas which presumably gave him his coveted “yes” vote in the referendum.

Erdogan took over as president in 2014 after serving as prime minister for nearly a decade. Previously, the presidency was seen as a largely ceremonial position, but Erdogan has since turned himself into a de facto head of government. No stronger proof of this than the crackdown that followed an alleged failed coup last year. Though critics and conspiracy theorists say the coup attempt took place with Erdogan’s tacit support, it allowed him, say analysts, to “turn up the heat on opposition voices.” In the year since, Erdogan has jailed and gone after critics, shutting down 180 media outlets, arresting 120 journalists, dismissing more than 3,000 judges and prosecutors, and arresting more than 27,000 others on various charges, according to some estimates.

The most prominent among those singled out for blame for the coup try was a Turkish Muslim preacher named Fethullah Gulen and his followers in the Gulen movement (known as Hizmet or “service” in Turkish) and the larger organization Alliance for Shared Values.

Erdogan says Gulen and his adherents conspired with members of the Turkish military to launch a coup attempt. In the wake of such accusations, the Turkish government shut down a network of schools and universities identified with the Gulen movement and arrested many of those linked to the movement, including teachers and journalists.

Ironically, Gulen, who is living in the United States in Pennsylvania, is currently out of reach of Erdogan and the Turkish government. His network of institutions, some of which have been established here in the Philippines, have made a name for themselves as “centers of excellence”; especially in the United States, many have been named “charter schools,” funded by public money after being certified. Gulen is also an influential global businessman, with the net worth of his institutions and companies estimated at between $20 billion to $50 billion.

How will the Turkey referendum results impact the Philippines? Is it possible that the Duterte administration is following developments for a possible replication?

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TAGS: Erdogan, opinion, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey, vote, yes
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