Country Risk

Despite narrow victory, Turkey's president unlikely to pursue political reconciliation following referendum, while presidential election likely by mid-2018

18 April 2017
Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks to crowds at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, following his referendum victory on 16 April 2017. Source: PA

Key Points

  • The narrowness of Recep Tayyip Erdogan's victory and opposition complaints about election fraud are highly unlikely to lead to a vote recount, but risk undermining the international legitimacy of his executive presidency.
  • An early presidential election, which Erdogan needs to win in order to assume executive presidential powers, is likely to be called by parliament by mid-2018.
  • The referendum victory is highly unlikely to bring an end to Erdogan's heavy-handed tactics, with pressure on the opposition media and private sector likely to intensify.


Turkey's new constitution, creating an executive presidential office while dismantling checks and balances to its authority, was approved with a 51.4 per cent vote in a referendum on 16 April 2017.

Support for the new constitution, which will now create an executive presidential office with minimal checks and balances to its authority, was concentrated in areas outside of major Turkish cities, as well as Turkish constituencies in Europe. Key urban centres, including Adana, Ankara, Diyarbakir, Izmir, and Istanbul,all voted a majority 'no'. In the two largest of these cities, Ankara and Istanbul, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) had consistently prevailed in in prior electoral contests, indicating that a significant segment of traditional AKP supporters voted 'no', out of their concerns about the concentration of power the new system would entail.

The narrow win for President Erdogan came despite a playing field that was skewed in favour of the 'yes' campaign, in terms of both media coverage and the allocation of state funds. The unfair nature of the referendum was confirmed by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which announced after the referendum that it had been "contested on an unlevel playing field".

The referendum outcome was marred by the Supreme Electoral Council's (Yüksek Seçim Kurulu: YSK's) decision to treat as valid up to 2.5 million ballot envelopes lacking official stamps, corresponding to 4.5 per cent of total votes.

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