A swift confession is in order: I cheated in yesterday''s referendum. I went into the voting booth, cast my vote by registering it a “YES” and left there with my heart not on the topic of the day but on topics of prospective referenda to come.
Yesterday''s referendum had a readymade answer for almost everyone who took the trouble of going to the ballot box. If many citizens refrained from fulfilling their civic duty yesterday, they did so because of their belief that the topic of the referendum was no longer relevant. The Parliament elected the 11th president, and Abdullah Gül, the newly elected president, was an answer to every requirement in the minds of most citizens. So why bother?
A referendum is not an everyday occurrence in Turkey. In my lifetime, I remember only two other occasions, both on topics of no importance. Turgut Özal, then prime minister, used it for the issue of the political rights of senior politicians who had been deprived of them by the military rulers of the Sept. 12, 1980 coup d''état, and at the last moment, he, Özal, rigged the results for his opponents'' benefit. That was the first referendum I participated in.
We went to ballot boxes the next year to determine whether elections would be held three months earlier than they were due. Again it was as futile a topic as the first one was.
The topic of yesterday''s referendum was more serious, no doubt about it, but the importance of it has diminished since the last election. The idea of putting who would elect the next president into a referendum was a clever tactic of the party in power who was in dire straights to find a way out of a predicament. After the Constitutional Court decided a two-thirds majority was needed for the parliamentary session to start its proceedings and after the military stepped in by announcing their eagerness to take part in the process, the AK Party found it convenient to postpone the process to after early elections. In the meantime, the government decided to ask the public about who should elect the next president: the Parliament or the public itself.
So this was the reason for yesterday''s referendum.
The problem was solved by general elections. The people voted overwhelmingly for the AK Party, enabling the newly emerging Parliament to elect the 11th president. Voter participation was so high that nobody in his right mind could raise the same criticism he did before the elections; even the military kept its silence when Abdullah Gül was elected the 11th president of the republic.
The situation was so panicky before the early elections that the AK Party made some mistakes in handling the crises. If the new Parliament did not act almost unanimously to change the wording in the text of the constitutional amendment, the framework for yesterday''s referendum, we would have a legal wrangling over the legitimacy of President Gül. We always find right path at the last moment, thank God.
Now we have a president elected by Parliament. He is to serve seven years, but we went to a referendum to decide if our presidents are going to be elected by Parliament or by popular vote and whether the president would serve a potential two five-year terms rather than a single seven-year term as is presently the case. It is a topic of no relevancy for today''s realities whatsoever.
Regardless of my inner resistance to the topic of the referendum, I nevertheless went to the extreme trouble of traveling to Ankara from Istanbul to cast my vote with the hope that this would be the first in a long series of referenda for more relevant topics of real importance. By holding referenda whenever necessary, we can find solutions for problems that have been dividing our society and making life miserable for many people.
Let us take the issue of the headscarf ban at universities. This is a unique application making Turkey stand alone in the civilized world. More than half of the female public in Turkey covers their heads for religious reasons and sends their children to secular schools with an understanding that they will receive a modern education. When those children reach university age, their right to an education is taken out of their hands with the headscarf ban, although the Constitution provides guarantees for all basic human rights, including the right to an education. According to reliable opinion polls, the public is unhappy with the ban at universities. All the polls conducted for the last 10 years attest to the fact that two-thirds of the population is against the ban, and almost 80 percent would like to see the ban lifted.
The latest poll, the findings of which were announced on Saturday, indicates another important fact: The ban, which has been in effect for more than two decades, has not served its purpose. Only 1.2 percent of the women have decided not to wear a headscarf because of the ban; the rest either enter campuses by taking off their head covering or cover their heads not with scarves but with wigs and hats.
It is a shame, really.
I went to the ballot box yesterday to cast my vote for a referendum with no relevancy to today''s problems. I went there only because of my hope that coming referenda will be over issues of more relevance.
So I cheated in yesterday''s referendum, but I did it for a noble intention.