Post-Referendum Turkey

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Mehdi Motahharinia
Doctoral degree in social and cultural futurology and political communication

Apart from numerous questions that have been posed as to Turkey’s constitutional referendum in 2017, the Iranian society has also its own basic questions in this regard. What effect will this referendum have on the role that Turkey plays in the Middle East? In what ways would possible developments unravel? What consequences will such developments have in relation to Iran? What future scenarios are imaginable following this referendum?

-       Exploring identify of this referendum

o   From the viewpoint of identity and in the light of expectant constitutional changes, Turkey’s referendum has promised[1]:

  •  “centralization of power” and
  •  continuation of “more political stability and energizing politico-economic development.”

-       Texture

-       Turkey has a track record in radical Islamist nationalism combined with traditional and modern power-seeking tendencies in the Middle East region, which have been pursued through two fronts, namely, nationalistic Islamism and secular nationalism.

-       Context

o   Centralization of power in a country lacking institutionalized political ethics, democratic conduct and legal actions among people;

-       Context of situation

o   International environment: The period of transition from the old international order to a relatively ambiguous order within future geometry of the global power;

o   Regional environment: Chaotic disorder within the regional order and covert power struggle among big global powers in the Middle East in order to affect the future world order;

o   Domestic environment: Feeling of power and its projection following successful handling of last year’s coup d’état;

-       Certainties

o   Erdogan’s fragile win in the referendum by getting about 51 percent of votes;

o   Qualitatively fragile geographical fabric of Turkey, taking into account the “red no” given to Erdogan in modern cities in addition to ethnic orientations in Kurdish regions;

o   Implementation of the Neo-Ottomanism project for a return to grandeur of the Ottoman era by Erdogan;

o   The faceoff between Erdogan – as an authoritarian personality in his party – and party eggheads and its spread to national society of the modern Turkey;

o   The conflict between Erdogan’s model of Islamism, on the one hand, and the traditional Islamism cherished by Riyadh as well as the revolutionary Islamism embraced by Tehran, on the other hand;

-       Uncertainties

o   Lasting popularity of Erdogan among the masses and within social and political bases belonging to lower urban classes

o   Compliance of opposition parties with the present fragile vote and the justified claim about vote rigging due to the narrow margin of vote in a referendum with only two choices;

o   Possible breakout of more pervasive tension and more horrendous regional and international war;

o   Making a more serious effort by Turkey within framework of the “agreement front” as opposed to the “resistance front” in the Middle East;

o   Personal and character-based inclination of Erdogan toward dictatorship inside the country, hegemony at regional level, and international conflict with transregional powers;

o   Success of the Neo-Ottomanism project aimed at a return to grandeur of the Ottoman era as envisaged by Erdogan;

-       Answering questions

  •  One: What effect will Turkey’s 2017 referendum have on the country’s role in the Middle East?

According to promises given by Erdogan, the “post-referendum” Turkey must achieve more “political stability,” as well as “politico-economic development.” In view of the “fragile regional and international texture,” “insecure and sliding texture of Turkey’s domestic security,” and “the ignitable political and ethnic context,” “the existing fragile vote” will serve to usher Turkey into a new “period of transition,” which will be logically a source of crisis. At the same time, further growth in crisis can intensify all fractions that exist in Turkey’s triple domestic, regional and international environments, thus facing the promised political stability as well as the politico-economic development with major challenges, which can potentially turn into a crisis. This texture will orient Turkey’s foreign policy in a risky direction in order to divert attention from domestic crisis in the country, and will increase friction between “Erdogan’s Turkey” and other actors in the region, especially Iran, which has a claim to leadership of regional movements. At the same time, preventing breakout of domestic crisis, management of challenges by Erdogan in the internal environment of Turkey, and turning challenges into problems instead of crisis, can further increase Turkey’s thirst for regional power and promotion of Neo-Ottomanism. In both cases, the possibility of regional conflicts involving Turkey will increase.

  •  Two: How possible developments will fare?

“Erdoganist Turkey,” “Neo-Ottoman Turkey,” and “repentant Turkey” are possible scenarios facing Turkey in the future. In all these three possible scenarios, the future Turkey will be a country dependent on a more aggressive foreign policy. In other words, as a result of the existing uncertainties, Turkey’s foreign policy will resort to power projection.

  •  Three: What consequences will such developments have for Iran?

Iran and Turkey, along with Egypt, are three powers with historical, cultural and political backdrops. This issue becomes more sensitive when their civilizational overlap during different periods of time is added to the above mix. Also add to the above the increasing pace of political, security and military developments in the region and their accumulation in the rapidly evolving juncture of the world power geometry with Syria at its center. Therefore, the outcomes of these developments for Iran must be studied in three following environments:

o   Domestic

o   Regional, and

o   International.

In the first environment, accepting the referendum result is considered as a democratic approach. In regional environment, the conflict of power between Iran and Turkey can be tracked in two regional contexts, that is, “confrontation of models,” and “confrontation between resistance and agreement fronts.” When it comes to international environment, we may see increased possibility of Turkey getting closer to the Western front, especially through compliance with Washington’s anti-Iran policies, in order to get more concessions.

  •  Four: What future prospects are imaginable for this referendum?

There are three possible future scenarios imaginable for this referendum:

1.       “Erdoganist Turkey,”

2.       “Neo-Ottoman Turkey,” and

3.       “Repentant Turkey.

Discussing every one of these scenarios needs more time and a better opportunity.


[1] Some of the outcomes of constitutional reforms in Turkey, which will enter into force in 2019, include:

·         Changing Turkey’s political system from parliamentary to a presidential system;

·         By allowing two five-year terms for the president to stay in power, the way would be paved for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to remain in power up to 2029;

·         The prime minister post will be eliminated and cabinet members will be chosen by the president;

·         The president, not the parliament, will take charge of formulating the annual budget bill;

·         A state supervisory board topped by the president will be able to take legal action against individuals independent of the judiciary;

·         The number of lawmakers at Turkey’s parliament will increase from 550 to 600 and the voting age will be reduced from 25 to 18 years;

·         Instead of every four years, parliamentary elections will be held every five years and simultaneous with the presidential election;

·         The president will have the power to dissolve the parliament, but dissolution of the parliament will lead to early presidential election.

The important point about the constitutional referendum in Turkey was the high number of negative votes in such big cities as Ankara and Istanbul, and high number of positive votes in small cities.


*These views represent those of the author and are not necessarily Iran Review's viewpoints.


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