On Sunday, Turks streamed to the polls to vote in a referendum on constitutional amendments which, if passed, would fundamentally alter Turkey's system of government and essentially institute a dictatorship. In practice, there would be no separation of powers, with the president controlling the judiciary and able to absent himself and his cabinet from any oversight on the part of the legislature.
Initially, the Turkish press reported a lopsided victory in favor of the new government but, as the hours passed, the "Yes" margin of victory narrowed. Even though the official result has yet been announced, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared victory.
There are serious irregularities, however.
Put aside for a moment that the state-controlled media would not give significant airtime to opposition and Erdogan's police force and personal militia harassed and jailed opposition campaigners. Also ignore for a moment that "state of emergency" which gave Erdogan dictatorial rights to jail opponents, tens of thousands of whom are in prison without trial and so had their votes denied.
The problem goes beyond an unfair campaign to outright fraud:
Article 94 of Turkey's Election Law states that election tabulators cannot count envelopes and votes inside not carrying the official stamp of the election. The rule was enacted to prevent ballot-stuffing. Yet, an hour after the ballot boxes were opened, the High Electoral Council reversed its decision.
Then, in Turkey's southeast where the Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) dominates, observers were removed from the balloting room for "security reasons" so only the government-appointed officials in the room counted and tallied results. Fraud in this process alone may have changed the results. This isn't just theoretical: In Urfa, multiple videos emerged showing ballot stuffing.
The Republican Peoples Party says it is filing objections involving 2.5 million votes. If only one-fifth of that total changes, the final result will change as well.
Erdogan may claim victory, but Turkey is dangerously divided. Those who opposed constitutional amendments affirming Erdogan's dictatorship will not recognize the legitimacy of Erdogan and his new government. Nor, frankly, should they. The fight may very well turn violent. Any loosening of police repression will result in street clashes. The Kurdish insurgency will redouble as they see themselves disenfranchised. The Turkish military, purged of its top officers and experience, will be unable to counter the Kurds leading to the effective loss of Turkey's southeast. Then there's Islamic State terrorism, which Erdogan has been powerless to prevent since he fired and imprisoned his top counterterror technocrats in favor of political sycophants.
Erdogan may believe himself king, but he will likely preside not over a Turkish renaissance, but rather over a bloodbath.
Michael Rubin (@Mrubin1971) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. He is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a former Pentagon official.
If you would like to write an op-ed for the Washington Examiner, please read our guidelines on submissions here.