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Today's Zaman - September 13, 2010

by B├╝lent Kene┼č

A new process started in Turkey yesterday. The referendum has clearly shown whether the public favored maintaining the status quo or whether they supported change. According to the unofficial results from the ballot boxes counted so far -- in the evening when this article was written -- the overwhelming majority of the 49,446,269 voters went to the polls and 57 percent of them made it crystal clear that they were seeking change by approving the effort towards change through constitutional reform with their "yes" votes.

Under normal conditions, "yes" votes would be much higher, possibly exceeding 70 percent. However, the opposition parties opted to portray the referendum as a general election, and the ruling party had to respond to the accusations voiced by the opposition parties -- instead of explaining the content of the referendum package. This, unfortunately, turned the referendum into a vote of confidence for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party). Thus, tension and polarization produced two camps: a "no" camp, consisting of all the opponents of the AK Party, and a "yes" camp, comprising all the anti-status quo persons and groups. Accordingly, it can be suggested that those who voted "no" in the referendum were undoubtedly anti-AK Party voters. However, it is hard to argue that the "yes" voters exclusively consisted of the pro-AK Party electorate.

Having turned the referendum into a general election atmosphere -- polarizing through lies and black propaganda -- and advertising the voting as a vote of confidence for the ruling party, the opposition parties should have realized the grave strategic error they made when looking at the referendum results.

Frankly, why the opposition parties attempted to reduce a historic vote to small party politics was not understandable.

It was my heartfelt desire that the opposition parties would have adopted and implemented a policy which supported the nation, democracy and rule of law, not their small party interests -- both during the parliamentary process and referendum related to the reform package. But this didn't happen. Still, despite the "no" campaign waged tooth and nail by the opposition parties, the referendum ended in an overwhelming 57 percent "yes" -- this is a big victory for all the social groups who were in favor of change. This is also a great defeat for the entire "no" camp, particularly the Republican People's Party (CHP), the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), and the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP). Yet, as they made their bed, they will lie in it.

The referendum was also the end of the stress-laden and exhaustive campaign period. But this is certainly not an end. On the contrary, it is a fresh start. Starting today, the people will start to assert their demands for change. The barriers such as the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) and the Constitutional Court, which have so far prevented all attempts for deeper democracy, civilian administration and freedoms will be abolished. The Constitutional Court, into which every reform initiative has bumped, will, albeit gradually, cease to be a resistance point for the status quo. The courts hearing the most critical cases relating to Ergenekon, the Sledgehammer (Balyoz), Cage (Kafes) and other coup attempts will no longer feel themselves threatened by the despotic HSYK and will be able to perform their duties within the legal framework. For the first time in the history of the Turkish republic, everyone will be equal before the law. The offenses -- including treason -- committed by some military officers and generals will no longer go unpunished.

More importantly, Parliament, whose legislative powers were curtailed by the Constitutional Court after the constitutional amendments to Articles 10 and 43 of the Constitution that lifted the ban on headscarf in university campuses two years ago, will have increased self-confidence. As the sole representative of the national will, Parliament will recover its reputation in this referendum. With increased self-confidence and prestige, Parliament will be able to take bolder steps toward a solution with respect to the host of the country' entrenched problems, including the Kurdish issue, the Alevi issue, the non-Muslim minorities problem, the headscarf issue and other critical issues. With the desire for change expressed so strongly, it will be much easier for Parliament --either this one or the new one to be elected in July 2011-- to completely amend the Constitution. Most importantly, Sept. 12 will no longer be marked as the anniversary of the military coup of Sept. 12, 1980 that disregarded democracy and national will, but the day when the militarist tutelary structure over the Turkish democracy and legal system cracked.

The results from the polls stand as a watershed in Turkey's history, and in a sense, the end of the beginning, as well. With these results, Turkey is on the verge of a great change. But these results mean nothing but the beginning of the end for the MHP, the BDP and the CHP. For the opposition particularly, especially for the MHP and the BDP, nothing can be the same. And it should not.

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