Notes on the Constitutional Referendum

I am typing this as I watch the mainstream media coverage of the referendum results in Turkey. As predicted by the state-run news agency, it seems that the results will be a close Yes. Given the current state of events, one can make certain statements and projections based on the whole referendum process.

It appears that the spotlight will be on the scandalous decision of YSK(Yüksek Seçim Kurulu - High Council of Elections) to consider the ballots that have no official stamps as valid votes. Unlike the infamous Florida recount, this is not merely a technicality as the chad debates that occurred then. Rather, the stamps were declared as a must-have in the election law (in clauses 98 and 101) and it was the tradition on all the elections I have ever voted in my lifetime. See the infographics published by YSK themselves for a verbally less cumbersome proof.

As the number of ballots that do not have a stamp is not clearly known, it is not possible to estimate the influence this decision will have on the election results. But based on the reports that the opposition party will object to the results in the 37% of the ballot boxes, it seems that this decision may have been critical in affecting the election results.

The decision by YSK is horrible in multiple ways. An obvious reason has to do with the function of the official stamps. Simply put, they are the seal ensuring that the ballots are genuine. With the usage of stamps, the problem of ensuring all counted ballots being genuine is reduced to securing the stamps: if the stamps can not be imitated, then no fraudulent ballot may be mixed into the system. Removing this requirement makes securing the ballots harder, as it becomes extremely hard to check if any adversaries added any fraudulent ballots to the system.

An important factor making YSK's decision terrible is its timing. YSK announced this decision after the counting of the votes began. Whether this decision has reached all voting centers is unclear. (i.e. not verifiable by us ordinary citizens) It is possible some centers may not have heard of this decision before it was too late, and it is hardly possible to verify whether all centers did the count based on the new standard, and did a recount, if it was necessary.

The decision is also legally troubling, to say the least. Right now, the main opposition party CHP stated that they will object to the results based on the unlawfulness of the decision made by YSK. At this point we face another horror about this decision: its execution. You see, since YSK did not ask each voting center to record to their final report the number of YES and NO ballots without the official stamps, if the legal proceedings were to end in a way that would deem the unstamped ballots invalid, we have no way of doing a recount! You would think that, at worst, a nationwide recount would suffice, but there are numerous social media reports of voting center officials just putting official stamps on the ballots as they are counting them! Here's one, if you need any convincing. This particular incident seems to have happened in the outer districts of the capital of Turkey. Consider the rural regions of the country, which is unlikely to be any better in terms of regulation.

This troubled execution of the counting of the ballots will probably result in a legal entanglement that will take a long time to resolve. Unfortunately, as this issue is deeply tied to politics and even to the regime of the country, the parties that object to these results will be under serious pressure to end their opposition. The majority of the mainstream media in Turkey is known to be pro-Erdogan. The victors of this referendum will likely channel that support to create a social and political momentum with the message that the legal battle on the referendum results should end at once, in order to prevent further division among the people. (you know, peace and stability and all that)

While all this is going on, the mainstream media seems to just dwell over the numbers and statistics. Instead of focusing on what is troubling with the way the election is conducted, they are just comparing the results of the referendum with the results of the general elections in the previous years. Their speculation on which political 'camp' won or lost votes in this referendum is a stupidity worth noting: while the constitution of the country was being voted on, these 'analysts' were more focused on how different political parties influenced the percentages in this referendum. I guess their coverage conforms with the general tendency among many Turkish people to consider this referendum as a vote of confidence for Erdogan, and choosing the populist road is surely good for ratings of these media outlets. Nonetheless, it is not what a free press should have done. Given that moments ago our people chose to give more power and less accountability to the president, the state of the media is just causing additional despair.

I've seen quite a bit of mainstream media coverage and browsed many social media feeds tonight. But, after all is said and done, I guess the decision made by YSK will be considered as a technicality in the minds of the majority of the voters. No upcoming objection is likely to change the results, because as I explained above, the counting was too big a mess. Besides, the unlawful execution of ballot counting would not matter to a significant majority of the people. Given what people have been going through in the last years, many, I believe, would prefer an unlawful but a more stable country, as opposed to the other way around. And yes, unlike them, I am aware of the stupidity of the idea that an unlawful stability can not be sustained.

What's now important is the new law of the land: a more powerful and less accountable president. Up to this point, I believed at least half the country was not being properly informed about the social, political or economic issues, and were kept on a leash mainly by economic restraints. Now, even if people could somehow get informed, they probably won't have the power(i.e. legal or political means) to change things. And as long as a sufficient level of chaos ensues in the country, the powerful will retain their position, similar to how dictators keep their powers in some African countries.