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Erdogan's Rigged Referendum Is Great News for Syria, Kurds and Russia

The country Erdogan leads will be weaker and more divided, and he'll be less of a nuisance for his neighbors

This post first appeared on Russia Insider

The referendum in Turkey which has granted Erdogan sweeping powers was openly fraudulent:

The tightness of the final outcome of the referendum – 51.4 per cent “yes” to the constitutional changes and 48.59 per cent voting “no” – shows that the “no” voters would have been in the majority in any fairly conducted election.

Late on Election Day the head of the Electoral Board overseeing the election decided that votes not stamped as legally valid, and numbering as many as 1.5 million, would be counted as valid, quite contrary to the practice in previous Turkish elections.

An even cheekier ploy was to announce that cities with large Kurdish populations in south-east Turkey, where Erdogan’s security services have brutally crushed dissent, had swung in his direction.

Thus ends a system which, though flawed, was nonetheless vibrant and pluralist:

In the past foreign observers have often made the mistake of thinking that Turkey was similar to Middle East states. In reality, it was a much more modern state closer in its political history to the countries of southern Europe.

There were military coups and military rule, but there were also real elections and powerful parliaments. There was a sophisticated and influential media and an intellectual energy in Turkey superior to most countries in Europe.

It is this that is now being eliminated as Turkey becomes yet another member of the corrupt and tawdry club of Middle East autocracies.

It's anyone's guess where things go from here: 

The narrowness and dubious nature of Erdogan’s electoral “success” is unlikely to make him more conciliatory and, going by his actions after failing to get the majority he wanted in a general election in 2015, he will become even more aggressive in stamping out opposition.

He is already proposing to bring back the death penalty which scarcely argues any appetite for compromise on his part. Resistance to his rule, deprived of any effective legitimate vehicle for protest through parliamentary politics, may become more violent, but he can use this to demonise all dissent as “terrorism”.

Yet it will be difficult for Erdogan to stabilise his country because he has previously specialised in provoking crises, such as the Kurdish insurgency since 2015 or Turkey’s role in the war in Syria, which supposedly necessitate a strong leader such as himself.  

But one thing that is certain is that Erdogan now heads a deeply divided, and therefore weaker, country.

The new Sultan may be as prone to foreign adventures (setting up false flag gas attacks in Syria, bankrolling head-choppers, invading the north, ambushing a Russian Su-24 jet) as before, but now the cracks is the system are showing. He's vulnerable and he knows it. 

If he gets too far out of line it should now be easier for his rivals to "hit back".

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