Turkey has voted overwhelmingly in favour of a package of constitutional amendments which will, amongst other things, grant greater executive control over the appointment of senior judges and enable the prosecution of military commanders in civilian courts.
The referendum campaign was marked by political polarisation. The ruling Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) campaigned for a 'yes' vote against the social democratic Republican Peoples' Party and the Turkish nationalists, who favoured a 'no' vote. Unsurprisingly, the referendum was less about the merits of the amendments and more about the performance of Prime Minister Erdogan in office.
The results showed that 60 percent of Turks opted for continued political and economic stability under the leadership of Prime Minister Erdogan, acquiescing to the increased presence of overt religious conservatism in daily life. The result could be seen as an out-right victory for the government, yet the 40 per cent who were not swayed by the pro-Yes campaign of Mr Erdogan should not be ignored.
Turkey's relatively prosperous European Thrace region and coastal territories along the Aegean and the Mediterranean voted decisively against the amendments. Kurdish-dominated south-eastern Turkey largely heeded calls by the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party to boycott the ballot box. This suggests that tensions between the Kurdish nationalists and the Turkish state will persist unless a comprehensive strategy to tackle Kurdish disenchantment over cultural rights and poverty is addressed.
Mr Erdogan will use the momentum generated by the referendum to try and secure a third victory in the next general election due before July 2011, as well as aim to win the presidential election in 2012. There is also speculation that he wants to establish a powerful French-style presidential system of government under a new civilian constitution. That would essentially divert power away from the parliament into the hands of the president. Considering the way Erdogan's fortunes are going, it is not an exaggeration to assume that he will achieve his political objectives in the immediate future.