Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has claimed victory in Sunday’s referendum over whether to give sweeping powers to the president, but Turkey’s main opposition party is calling for the the referendum results to be tossed out, citing irregularities. According to unofficial results, just 51 percent of voters approved the sweeping change. Turkey’s three largest cities—Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir—all voted against the referendum. The opposition says they’ve received thousands of reports of voter fraud, including some alleged instances caught on camera. Critics say the constitutional changes will allow Erdogan to rule until at least 2029, if not longer, and could turn Turkey into a dictatorship. Earlier today, Turkey announced it would extend its state of emergency put in place after an attempted coup last year.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has claimed victory in Sunday’s referendum over whether to give sweeping powers to the president. But Turkey’s main opposition party is calling for the referendum results to be tossed out, citing irregularities. According to unofficial results, just 51 percent of voters approved the sweeping change. Turkey’s three largest cities—Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir—all voted against the referendum.
AMY GOODMAN: The opposition says they have received thousands of reports of voter fraud, including some alleged instances caught on camera. Thousands across Turkey’s mostly Kurdish southeast were also unable to vote because they didn’t have an address, after having been displaced from their homes by the ongoing government offensive, which has destroyed whole villages. Critics say the constitutional changes will allow Erdogan to rule until at least 2029, if not longer, could turn Turkey into a dictatorship. Earlier today, Turkey announced it would extend its state of emergency put in place after an attempted coup last year.
Joining us now is Bilge Yesil, associate professor of media culture at the College of Staten Island, City University of New York. She’s author of Media in New Turkey: The Origins of an Authoritarian Neoliberal State.
Professor, welcome to Democracy Now! Your response to what’s taken place in Turkey?
BILGE YESIL: Well, this outcome has not been very surprising for me and for a lot of Turkey watchers and observers. We’ve been expecting a yes vote. And what has surprised me is how the naysayers in this campaign turned our at the polling stations, because, as you have mentioned earlier, there has been an unlevel playing field. And just moments ago, I was following the news. OSCE observers in Turkey held a press briefing, and they called it an unlevel playing field. So, this referendum has not taken place under very, you know, like fair conditions. It has taken place under a state of emergency that has been in effect since the aborted coup attempt in July 2016. And it has been renewed every three months. And there has been a media crackdown, with, you know, like dozens of journalists imprisoned. So, the yes campaign, run by the AKP government and President Erdogan, has almost drowned out any dissident voices in the general public and media sphere. What has pleasantly surprised me, and perhaps others, is how high the naysayers turned out at the polls, so it’s very close. And with the serious allegations of, you know, fraud, the fact that the margin is very close, I think it still gives, you know, like a hope, in terms of the livelihood of oppositional voices in Turkey. So they have not been repressed completely.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what about the media climate there? I think Turkey now has more journalists in prison than any country in the world?
BILGE YESIL: Yes, unfortunately, we hold that notorious record as the country that has the—you know, like the largest number of journalists in jail, which is currently at 158. And Turkey also holds another notorious world record in terms of, you know, like content removal requests and account—and requests for closing accounts on social media, the requests made to Twitter and Facebook and others. So there has been this—
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: More than a hundred television and radio stations closed?
BILGE YESIL: And, yes, that has happened. In the aftermath of last year’s coup attempt, more than hundred media outlets, including radio and television stations, publications, periodicals and news agencies, have been closed. But this media repression is really nothing new. It has been going on for some time. I can trace that back to at least 2008, 2009, when there were political investigations going on into, you know, like high-level military generals and NGOs and activists and journalists and academics. So this has been going on for quite some time. But this is—you know, like it has taken—it has worsened after 2013 Gezi Park protests, after the corruption scandal revelations and, most recently, after the coup attempt.
AMY GOODMAN: Earlier today, hundreds of opponents of the referendum marched through Istanbul in protest, while in Ankara some residents spoke out about alleged voting fraud.
EBRU TAVUKCU: [translated] This almost feels like saying farewell to the republic system. I believe our votes are stolen. I think the electoral board’s decision to count unstamped "yes" votes as valid, upon AK Party’s request, is a big scandal. We all remained silent in the face of this.
AMY GOODMAN: So, Bilge Yesil, what happens now? The vote has taken place. And, as you said, the naysayers, or the people who voted no, against Erdogan, came out. You had countries—the Netherlands turned back the Turkish foreign minister, who went to rally, because ex—people in other countries who were Turkish could vote, and they wouldn’t let him go to the rally to rally people for this vote. What happens with Erdogan? What happens with the opposition? How many, ultimately, people are in jail at this point, has he imprisoned?
BILGE YESIL: The latest number, as far as I know, I think it’s about 40,000 people have been arrested. And this is after the coup attempt. Another 130,000 people have been dismissed from their posts in state bureaucracy and, you know, like civil servants.
AMY GOODMAN: Mainly teachers?
BILGE YESIL: And especially leftist teachers have been sacked, as well as hundreds of academics in public universities. So, the purge, that started as an attempt to eliminate the masterminds of the coup, has turned into a broader initiative to purge all dissidents, especially the leftist and the socialist and Kurdish and pro-Kurdish voices.
What happens now is, I don’t think that things will calm down, or I think the polarization and the political division that has been going on since at least 2013 Gezi Park protest is going to stay with us for much longer. And these, you know, like constitutional amendments and the new executive presidential system will not take effect immediately. It won’t happen at least until 2019. And because Erdogan and the AKP—although they declared a victory in this referendum, because they won with a very slight majority, I think they will continue to consolidate their hegemony and, you know, like respond to any challenges to their legitimacy in any way they can, be it political, economic and social and cultural.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, we have about a minute left, but I wanted to ask you—your book, Media in New Turkey: The Origins of an Authoritarian Neoliberal State. Now, in Turkey, it’s basically an Islamist government battling secularists. And you normally associate the secularists with neoliberalism rather than the Islamists. I’m wondering, your sense of how Erdogan is pursuing a neoliberal policy in Turkey?
BILGE YESIL: Actually, the neoliberal project undertaken by the AKP is, again, really nothing new. And in the book, I trace this back to the post-1980 era, when Turkish economics structure was, you know, like—it was restructured along the lines of neoliberalism and market policy. So what the AKP has done is to, you know, like take that neoliberal economic initiatives and those trajectories, and, you know, like continue that tradition, along with, you know, the—along with statism and Turkish nationalism and mixing it with their own vision of Islamism and, you know, like religious conservatism. So, I see the AKP’s project as a continuation of that post-1980 trajectory. And right after the Arab Spring, Turkey was hailed as a model country for Middle Eastern countries, because it married, you know, like market economy, global capitalism—
AMY GOODMAN: We have five seconds.
BILGE YESIL: —and Islam.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there, but we’ll continue to cover what happens. Bilge Yesil is associate professor of media culture at the College of Staten Island, City [University] of New York.