Germany holds Erdogan 'personally' responsible for Turkey's referendum

The German government has voiced concern over the narrow result of Turkey's referendum to expand the president's powers. Amid widening protests, analysts have warned that social unrest may spread following the vote.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the results of Turkey's referendum on Sunday show the Anatolian nation is divided.

Politics | 18.04.2017

"The narrow result of the vote shows how deeply split the Turkish society is, and that means a big responsibility for the Turkish leadership and for President (Recep Tayyep) Erdogan personally," Merkel said in a joint statement with Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel.

The referendum, which effectively overhauls Turkey's political order and consolidates power into an executive-style presidency, passed with 51.2 percent. However, opposition parties and international organizations have criticized the process, saying it took place on an "unlevel playing field."

Click here to read more: 'Opinion: Turkish referendum must be a wake-up call for Germany'

Politics | 16.04.2017

In response to allegations of voting irregularities, Erdogan lashed out by accusing European nations of holding a "crusader mentality."

"We neither see, hear, nor acknowledge the political reports you'll prepare," Erdogan said. "We'll continue on our path. Talk to the hand. This country has carried out the most democratic elections, not seen anywhere in the West."

Rocky road ahead

Late Monday, the Turkish parliament extended for three months a state of emergency implemented in the wake of a failed coup in July 2016.

UN observers, civil society groups and opposition parties have accused the government of committing "major violations" of human rights under state of emergency provisions, warning ahead of the referendum that it could discredit its legitimacy.

Marking the second consecutive night of anti-government demonstrations, protesters gathered in several cities across Turkey to denounce the vote, alleging that the consolidation of executive powers into the presidency amounts to "fascism."

Click here to read more: 'Opinion: Turkey's new era as Erdogan takes it all'

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Analysts have suggested that social unrest could sweep across the country in the wake of the referendum as Turkey struggles with European integration, conflicts at its borders, mass migration and a slumping economy.

Opposition parties have vowed to contest the results, citing unstamped ballots being included in the final tally, which they say is markedly against Turkey's electoral laws.

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Going up in smoke

A haze of smoke permanently hangs over Turkey’s low-income areas through the cold weather months. It’s the product of coal-fired ovens used to heat haphazardly built houses, known as "gecekondu" meaning "settled over night." Since President Recep Tayyip Erdogan came into power, the nation’s poorest residents have received free coal to stay warm, but the welfare hasn’t always translated into votes.

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Undecided voters

On Sunday Turks will vote in a referendum on whether to convert their country’s parliamentary system into a presidential one led by Erdogan and his governing Justice Development Party (AKP). While Erdogan has largely expanded social welfare programs and improved living standards for low-income voters, many people in Ankara’s slums remain undecided on how they’ll vote.

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The party for the poor

"When my husband was unemployed, I was thinking of how we would get coal. Then AKP gave it to us for free, and that’s when I understood this party is with the poor," Emel Yildirim, left, a mother of three, told DW. "Before it was hard to see a doctor. Now hospitals are more open to accepting poor people," she added.

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The Kurdish vote

Yildirim, a Kurd, said she’s also concerned about conflicts between the Turkish state and Kurdish militants. "If Erdogan gets a 'Yes' vote, it could get better. He says he’s with peace," Yildirim said. "But if you ask Selahattin Dermitas [the jailed Kurdish opposition leader], he says Erdogan will drown Kurds in their blood … It’s hard to make a decision."

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Skepticism prevails

A campaign banner is used as a couch cover in an alleyway, where mixed feelings over Erdogan prevail. Nearby, Ali, 25, who sells liver sandwiches from his family car, said, "On March 15, they gave people here bags of coal. Why would they do this in the spring? Winter is over. It’s obviously for the votes."

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"Problem with the system?"

Ali said his main concern was government corruption. "I don’t know if there’s a problem with the system or with the people that use the system," he told DW. "I have the same questions about Islam. Is it the religion or the people who use the religion that cause trouble? I sound like a 'No' voter, but I’m still undecided."

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Following his lead

Three-year-old Ayse stands in front of her home. Her mother, who didn’t want to be named or photographed, said she would vote 'Yes' simply because her husband was doing so. Yildirim said her husband, a chef, was also voting 'Yes' because, "he believes whatever Erdogan says is right. He doesn’t ask questions or analyze anything. There’s no arguing with him."

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Family affairs

Feride Turhan, right, pictured with her husband Mustafa, left, and their two sons in their living room. Feride said she still doesn’t understand what the referendum is about. "I’m not interested in politics, but I watch the news every day and no one has explained what the referendum is," she told DW. "I still don’t know which amendments are being changed."

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Safety first

Like most residents in Ankara’s slums, Mustafa Turhan (not pictured here), who works the night shift at a vegetable and fruit warehouse, cited safety as his main concern. He said the AKP expanded ambulance service to low-income areas in recent years, but gun violence was increasing. "At night, people with ski masks and AK-47s rob people," Turhan said. "Even 10-year-olds have guns sometimes."

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Steep learning curve

Mustafa also said schools weren’t improving in their neighborhood. "We accept the free coal because the state takes our taxes and it’s our way of getting them back," Mustafa told DW. "But we’d prefer if they invested more in schools so my sons could have better opportunities," like his eldest son, Mert, who is struggling to find work.

ls/jm (AP, Reuters)