Turkey's referendum is over. What now?

With Turkey set to adopt a presidential system of governance, many Turkish citizens wonder what the impact will be on the economy, and experts warn against the reintroduction of the death penalty.

Photo by: AA
Photo by: AA

For some it might appear like a narrow win, but President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has once again dominated the political landscape leaving his opponents wondering what happens next.

Saad Hasan Saad Hasan is a staff writer.

ISTANBUL, Turkey – When Erdal Varisli and Melih Oylum came out to vote in the hotly contested referendum in different parts of Istanbul on Sunday, they both had a similar aspiration for their country: to achieve stability.  For Varisli, that meant casting a "yes" vote, while for Oylum, it meant "no."

Both of them hold markedly different views on President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has succeeded in his bid to win the green light for a stronger presidency – something he says would help Turkey fight its problems more effectively.

But like many other Turkish citizens, Varisli and Oylum are wary of the political and economic turmoil of recent years.

"Erdogan knows my problems," says Varisli, 52, a self-proclaimed conservative who has backed Erdogan's AK Party (Justice and Development) since it was founded in 2001.

"He comes from among us – the middle class. So he knows about our issues, be it those related to trash or electricity. I’ve got faith in his ability to guide us."

Erdal Varisli has voted for the AK Party in every election. On Sunday, he likewise voted "yes" in the referendum, largely because he says Erdogan has done a lot for middle class. (Saad Hasan/TRT World)

On the other side of the political spectrum, Oylum, a 35-year-old owner of a tech startup, sees the referendum as simply a way of strengthening the executive. While he would support some kind of political reform, he argues that the presidential system is not a good fit for Turkey:

"I’m not happy with the current parliament either. Look at the economy, it’s in a terrible shape. We want a system which represents more views and freedom for people."

Turkey has been beset by a host of issues in recent years.

It narrowly escaped a military coup last year, unemployment is on the rise, the tourism industry has suffered, three million refugees have poured in from war-ravaged Syria, and relations with Europe have deteriorated.

Erdogan's supporters say a strong presidency will help deal with such challenges, without worrying about the weak coalition governments and the bureaucratic hassle that have long plagued the country.

Melih Oylum says the referendum will put Turkey on the path towards "one-man rule". (Saad Hasan/TRT World)

​There is some truth to this, according to Professor Emre Alkin, vice president of the Istanbul Kemerburgaz University, where he is a monetary economist.

"Making an investment in Turkey is not easy. A businessman has to go through nine different ministries for approvals. The process can be very cumbersome," he told TRT World.

However, to expect that the victory in the referendum could usher in economic growth is a bit of a far-fetched assumption, he says.

"Look, the current president and prime minister both come from same party. They already have a lot of influence over economic policies. So I don’t see a lot changing immediately."

Rather, it’s in the political arena where the most obvious changes will occur, as smaller political groups can have representation in the parliament.

Under the outgoing system, a party can only send its members to the parliament if it has wooed at least ten percent of the voters in national elections.

Over the next six months, Turkey’s parliament will debate and enact different laws that would help implement the amended articles, he says.

"Now we’d see broader representation. For instance, a liberal wouldn’t have to vote for a secular party just because he or she doesn’t see the party of choice crossing the ten percent threshold."

Some voters who supported "no" at the polls say they appreciated many of Erdogan's reforms, but were concerned about the concentration of power, and the crackdown that had followed the 2016 attempted coup.

Aleye, a 58-year-old businesswoman, voted against the presidential system because she says, "you can’t count on wishes of just one person."

At the same time, she acknowledges the development the country has seen under the AK Party, particularly in its decade in government.

"I've no doubt that Erdogan has done some good things. For example, the healthcare system is much better," she says.

"But things have changed drastically in last couple of years. No one can talk against his policies anymore. People are too scared," she says, refusing to share her last name.

At the same time, she has given up hope in the opposition progressives, all of which campaigned for the “no” vote, "They live in the middle ages. I think it’s time Turkey has a new leadership and party."

Opposition has been protesting the victory of the "yes" vote in the referendum. (Reuters)

While it remains to be seen how far the referendum will go to shape the political landscape at home, Turkey appears to be on a collision course with its European neighbours.

A few hours after the victory for the referendum was announced, Erdogan told thousands of his supporters in Istanbul on Sunday evening that he may seek another referendum – this time to bring back the death penalty, which his government wants for the plotters of last year's coup.

"The issue of death penalty shouldn't be taken lightly," says Emre Gonen, a lecturer at Istanbul Bilgi University.

"It should be kept in mind that Turkey is a founding member of the Council of Europe," he says, referring to region’s leading human rights organisation, which is against capital punishment.

"The debate surrounding its reintroduction in Turkey is getting a bit out of hand."

Investors were quick to react to the news of Erdogan’s victory at the referendum. The value of Turkish currency, the lira, increased and Istanbul stock exchange advanced, suggesting that the business community is expecting relative calm in the wake of the vote.

No matter how Turkish citizens like Varisli, Oylum and Aleye cast their ballots, most hope too that, with the referendum over, Turkey will enjoy stability.