Monday, September 20, 2010

Hurriyet South Weekly Editorial: Water Politics: What is so special about being near the water?

The editor at South Monday, Hurriyet Daily News and Economic Review's weekly supplement about the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts, liked my first editorial enough to ask me to write for them an editorial every month. So this is my second editorial for them. It is a light-hearted look at the referendum results.

It is really a shame I am putting this up so late (Monday, October 4), but all this is part of my catch-up process. Better late than ever...

BTW, I agree with the first commentator that the column does not have a lot of facts, but as I said, it is a light-hearted look, not a political analysis. And it is supposed to be an op-ed, so it is supposed to have more opinion than fact:)...

As you already know, the referendum on the constitutional reform package resulted in a somewhat surprisingly strong “yes” win of 58 percent.

But more interesting has been the distribution of votes. The western and southern coastal regions – the shores South Weekly is about – as well as Thrace strongly rejected the package, whereas the rest of the country wholeheartedly embraced it.

It has been argued by politic commentators that the geographical distribution of “yes” and “no” votes shows how politically polarized Turkey has become. It then follows that such a deep divide is barely conducive to forming a consensus on social, political or economic reform.

While the esteemed political commentators who have reached such a shocking conclusion are probably right, they nevertheless do not enlighten us on why the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts were so anti-reform.

There is a consensus explanation once you notice that many people went to the polls Sept. 12 uncertain of what they were voting for despite rigorous campaigning by both sides. Undecideds stood at a whopping 17 percent in a survey a few days before the referendum by polling company KONDA, which was, by the way, the only major outfit that correctly predicted the outcome.

The noted confusion about the reform package, along with opposition parties’ commendable zeal to turn the referendum into a vote of confidence for the government, meant that voting was mainly along party preferences. And given the distaste for the ruling AKP in the south, which PM Erdoğan has reluctantly accepted as well, it was normal that “no” ruled along the coast.

This explanation makes perfect sense, but I still think there is something missing in this picture. For example, once you map party preferences with the referendum results on a provincial basis, the biggest discrepancies happen to be on the southern coast: İzmir has too many aye-sayers, and Muğla too many naysayers, to be explained by party preferences alone.

In fact, monthly KONDA surveys, on which I have worked as an external consultant, had been showing that voters in the south and Thrace were most likely to vote in the referendum beyond party preferences and least likely to be influenced by their partly leaders or family elders. It is also no coincidence that these regions come out as the least politically polarized in the same surveys.

Politics columnist Ahmet Hakan recently noted that he wants to move to İzmir following the city’s strong “no” result. I too want to move to İzmir, but rather for the robust “yes” outturn, even though I personally still think the constitutional reform package is doing more harm than good. Because I know that a good chunk of those ayers, just like their nayer brothers, genuinely believe in the amendments.

And if you are still wondering what is so special about the south, just think about the blue and red regions in the presidential elections of the world’s largest democracy.

Maybe, there is something special about being near the water, after all… 

*Emre Deliveli is a freelance consultant and columnist for Hurriyet Daily News & Economic Review and Forbes as well as a contributor to Roubini Global Economics. Read his economics blog at

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