Referendum Cements Turkey's Precarious Internal Power Balance

Turkey’s constitutional referendum, with its very close 51–49 percent result, institutionalized the existing political power balance in Turkey and is unlikely to make President Recep Tayyip Erdogan take more steps that stray from the wishes of his power base, the Justice and Development Party (AKP), former Foreign Minister of Turkey Yaşar Yakış told in a telephone interview.

“Erdogan was using the powers which were trusted to him a little beyond what is legally permitted. After the vote today, he will use them on the basis of the constitutional principles,” Yakış said.

According to Yakış, the main issue for most voters is Turkey’s fragile economy, rather than liberal democratic principles. However, the main issues, structural economic problems and attracting foreign investment, will be the major factor in Erdogan’s future policies.

“In the longer run, the majority of the Turkish electorate is not that interested in fundamental democratic rights,freedoms and that type of thing, they are more concerned with the money that goes into their back pocket. The evolution of economic relations will be an important factor, if the money that goes into the pocket of the electorate decreases and unemployment increases, the present government may lose its support,” he said.

Regarding foreign relations, Yakış noted that many of Turkey’s policies regarding Syria and Russia have already been adjusted to realities on the ground, and that Turkey will continue to withdraw support from extremist rebel groups in Syria.

“Turkey had to adjust its policy to the reality in the field with or without this referendum because Turkey’s policy regarding Syria was not adjusted to the reality in the field, especially regarding support for Jabhat al-Nusra.* I think Turkey will have to withdraw its support from the opposition that are Salafist or extremist,” Yakış added.

Addressing relations with Russia, Yakış noted the importance of compartmentalizing relations, which he said was advantageous to both sides and is likely to continue.

“Turkey has to consider the importance of good relations with Russia with or without this referendum. Russia is a very important country and Turkey has so many mutual interests in maintaining these relations in a good framework. So far, Turkey and Russia have been able to compartmentalize these relations, and I think that this trend will continue,” he said.

One issue that Yakış expressed hope on was the settlement of Turkey’s Kurdish issue. He noted that the Dolmabahçe Process was a laudable initiative taken by President Erdogan to negotiate with the pro-Kurdish HDP party, but has been stuck with no reasonable excuse.

“I hope that the present government will take this question and will solve it together with that of the northern Syrian Kurds, they cannot be separated easily. Turkey’s interest is in negotiating with the northern Syrian Kurds, this will help turkey solve its problem with the Syrian Kurds, but also solve the problem with Turkey’s own Kurds at the same time,” he concluded.

* Organization is banned in Russia.

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