The answer is a resounding “No.“ But first, some background.
On April 16, 2017, Turkey voted to change its system of governance from a parliamentary system to an “executive presidency.” In practice, this means so many current checks and balances on the executive will be eliminated.
According to Turkey’s Supreme Electoral Council (known by its Turkish acronym YSK), the “Yes” campaign won 51.4% of votes. These results have, however, yet to be certified as official, and opposition politicians and ordinary citizens alike are . While efforts to annul the vote are likely to fail, the referendum’s legitimacy will continue to be questioned by many Turks, ensuring that instability in the country is far from over.
To support annulment, the opposition campaign is pointing to a number of incidents that occurred during voting.
Under amended in 2010, ballots that are not stamped by district electoral boards are invalid. Stamping ballots helps ensure they were not brought from outside the polling station. In contravention of the law, the YSK decided to validate unstamped ballots on referendum day, at the request of a member of the council who is part of the ruling AKP.
The opposition has also pointed to videos circulating on social media, which appear to show ballot stuffing for the ‘Yes’ campaign. Adding fuel to the fire, the (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) which monitored the referendum, released a harsh stating that “the referendum did not live up to Council of Europe standards.”
Aside from these irregularities, the “No” campaign has had to contend with intimidation and unfairness from the state and media. Indeed, from the start, the entire referendum process was rigged in favor of the “Yes” campaign. Public resources and all other advantages of government were used to support the vote in favor of the constitutional changes. For example, the day President Erdoğan and PM Yıldırım attended a “Yes” rally in Ankara, by Melih Gökçek, the city’s AKP mayor. “No” rallies were often cancelled by governors with no reasonable explanation, while there was very little air time given to “No” supporters in the media. The OSCE report notes that the “Yes” campaign “featured prominently in both the public and private media.” It received 76 percent of total airtime on television and 77.5 percent of space in the press, and was largely positively presented. The “No” campaign, by contrast, received only 23.5 percent of total airtime and press space, and was presented more neutrally.
In light of this, the fact that “No” won 48.6% of the vote and had outright victories in the three largest metropolises (İstanbul, Ankara, and İzmir) was praiseworthy.
Erdoğan’s Presidency in Practice
While the constitutional changes may seem significant, the Turkish people have become more or less familiar with life under an executive presidency. This is because there has been a de facto presidential system in Turkey, ever since former Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan became president in 2014. As president, Erdoğan has never been the impartial leader the Turkish constitution has required (until now) of the office.
Although legally he resigned as AKP chairman, in practice, Erdoğan continued to control the party. Through the AKP, he also had control over parliament. Unlike those who had previously held the office, Erdoğan exercised the president’s ceremonial powers to their fullest extent, including personally chairing cabinet meetings. The prime ministers who served during Erdoğan’s presidency were little more than loyal civil servants who did not dare question his policies.
As president, Erdoğan’s status as the nation’s only real leader was so strong that he was able to force the resignation of Ahmet Davutoğlu, who was elected prime minister in November of 2015 with the greatest percentage of votes in the AKP’s history (49.5%). Davutoğlu was replaced by Binali Yıldırım, who campaigned hard during the referendum to have his office abolished as part of the constitutional changes.
Now that the referendum has passed, Erdoğan will have to appoint cabinet ministers, declare a state of emergency, issue executive decrees, dissolve parliament, and influence state institutions that are supposed to be independent. He may also return to being the AKP’s chairman.
The Promise of Economic Stability
There is little doubt that the referendum will solidify and institutionalize Erdoğan’s authoritarianism. The question, however, is whether the promise, made by the “Yes” campaign, that the constitutional changes will bring greater economic and political stability will materialize.
AKP and the “Yes” campaign argued that a strong, centralized presidential system would help create economic stability, boost economic growth, and reduce inflation and unemployment. Some rough calculations and a look at macroeconomic indicators, however, do not confirm these claims.
During the period of Erdoğan’s de facto rule as an executive president (2014-2016), economic growth was slightly less than what it was during the AKP’s ‘parliamentary’ years (2002-2013). In the 2014-2016 period, Turkey grew by 4% per annum, on average. For the 2002-2013 period, the annual growth rate was 5%. In March 2017, the inflation 11.29%, the highest consumer inflation rate in Turkey since 2008. The latest (January 2017) is 13%, the highest rate in the past seven years. The value of the national currency has also declined substantially. From 2014-2017, the value of the U.S. dollar against the Turkish lira increased by nearly 67%.
On top of all this, the Turkish economy is struggling with dangerously increasing external private debt. In 2017 alone, private Turkish firms have to pay off $66.1 billion in debt, according to Treasury figures. , these firms will have difficulties making these payments. This could trigger corporate bankruptcies, cuts to R&D spending, and/or delays in expansion plans, all of which would impede growth.
This general accounting of Turkey’s economic problems, since Erdoğan became president, is definitely not a picture of economic stability.
The Promise of Political Stability
The “Yes” campaign also promised greater political stability. Here, the future is even bleaker. Just last year there was an attempted , in which the country’s parliament was bombed by F-16s and President Erdoğan narrowly escaped assassination. This hardly suggests political stability is around the corner.
According to the Political Stability and Absence of Violence index, which “perceptions of the likelihood of political instability and/or politically-motivated violence, including terrorism,” Turkey’s index for 2015 was 9.5 (out of 100), the worst record for the country since 1996 when the index began to provide rankings for Turkey. While there is no data yet for 2016, it is expected to be worse.
While a case could actually be made about one-party government and presidential systems producing economic and political stability, in Turkey’s case, it is an impossible argument to make. Erdoğan’s only concern is consolidating his base of pious Anatolian voters, while alienating and openly insulting others. The opposition parties were fractured, and frankly incompetent. Social peace was sacrificed in the process. Now, two halves of Turkey, those who are loyal to Erdoğan and those who oppose him, detest each other. As long as this political reality keeps repeating itself, there will be no stability in Turkey, with or without an “executive presidency.”