Turkey referendum, Erdogan dominance worries Dutch politicians

With Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan claiming a narrow victory in a referendum designed to give his office more power, several politicians in the Netherlands expressed disdain for the vote results. Erdogan opponents in Turkey questioned the veracity of the vote count, with Turkish state media claiming that 70 percent of Turkish passport holders in the Netherlands voting to give Erdogan greater authority.

About 115,000 people cast a ballot in the Netherlands, where 250,000 Turkish passport holders reside. In Turkey and abroad, Erdogan claimed 51.5 percent of ballots with an 86-percent voter turnout, according to state supplied election results.


Netherlands Socialist Party (SP) parliamentarian Sadet Karabulut responded to the outcome on Twitter asserting, “almost half of the Turkish population says NO. Erdogan can hardly call himself a winner in an innately divided country”. The sentiment was echoed by VVD parliamentarian Han ten Broeke who expressed similar views by simply stating, "far reaching powers after a marginal victory.”

Ten Broeke is a member of the same party as Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte, who did not comment on the referendum results as of early Monday afternoon.

PVV leader Geert Wilders spoke more explicitly pessimistic, Tweeting “Turkey chose for more islamofascism and totalitarianism today.”

The possible turn toward a totalitarian rule in Turkey also worried D66 parliamentarian Sjoerd Sjoerdsma. "In a democracy it is crucial that power is limited and that citizens have rights which cannot be denied by the state. This referendum contradicts this and confirms the negative trend deployed under Erdogan: Turkey is descending into a dictatorship,'' Sjoerdsma wrote late Sunday night.

Although Rutte has not yet responded to the vote tally, he has adopted a strong position on Turkey-related issues in the past. Amidst recent tensions between Turkey and some Western European states, the Netherlands refused to provide a public platform for Turkish Family Affairs Minister Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya who came to speak on behalf of the pro-referendum campaign last month in Rotterdam. Dutch authorities instead expelled her from the country, going so far as to escort her and her armed entourage to the German border. Kaya later sued the Netherlands over the “unlawful deportation” and President Erdogan levied accusations against several leaders for “Nazi practices” and fostering genocide in Srebrenica. Rutte’s response is believed to have helped him and his party outperform polling during the Dutch elections in March.


The vote further strains the relationship between Turkey and the European Union. EU parliamentarian for the Netherlands, and Turkey rapporteur Kati Piri (PvdA) said in a statement, “the country cannot join the EU with a constitution that doesn’t respect the separation of powers and has no checks and balances. If the package is implemented unchanged, this will have to lead to the formal suspension of the EU accession talks.”

With the close results in Turkey, the country joins the Netherlands, United Kingdom and United States as nations deeply divided between having either a more open or a more closed society. Upcoming elections in France and Germany are also expected to face such divisions. “Today’s outcome shows that there are millions of Turkish citizens who share the same European values and who chose for a different future for their country,” Piri points out. “The EU should never close the door to them.”


Piri also warns against instability within Turkey itself. In what she calls “an unfair election environment,” a narrow majority of the Turkish population has endorsed a constitutional amendment which will fit an authoritarian system. She went on to call it a “sad day for all democrats in Turkey,” adding that, “Erdogan’s autocratic behavior has deeply polarized Turkish society and harmed the economy”.

Dutch-Turkish student Senay Tocun also raises concerns she has about the nature of the voting process and its consequences for the country. Her friends and family in Turkey are convinced foul play was involved. “I highly wonder whether it is even possible to have a fair referendum procedure in modern day Turkey at all,” she tells Dutch broadcaster RTL.

"Half of the country is against the expansion of [Erdogan’s] power. The country is more divided than ever,” she says. She is afraid that those who voted “no” will face more difficulties, and that unrest will break out.

The vote also shows where President Erdogan’s supporters were situated. Turkey’s rural areas overwhelmingly voted “yes” while its major cities such as Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir strongly opposed the amendment. Since the attempted coup against Erdogan nine months ago, he’s fired over 100,000 individuals and jailed 40,000, including academics, journalists and judges.