Turkey’s referendum on Sunday saw a package of constitutional amendments win the support of 58 per cent of the Turkish population. A bitter campaign pitted the ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) and its leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan against the main opposition parties. The ruling party championed the reform package as a means of enhancing Turkey’s democracy, appealing to Turks to overturn the legacy of the military intervention of 1980. The opposition argued that the package would do away with the democratic balance of powers, allowing the government to extend its influence over the judiciary.

The outcome should therefore be seen as yet another electoral victory for Mr Erdogan, who spearheaded the “yes” campaign, consolidating his hold over the Turkish political scene. Analysts predict that the vote will now enable him to push his agenda of transforming Turkey’s parliamentary system into a US-style presidential system. The unfinished business of designing a new constitutional order will also top the agenda of the next elections – the AKP has now rekindled its hopes of winning a third term in the general elections slated for the first half of 2011.

The vote was far from united, however – western and Mediterranean Turkey, including all coastal regions, voted “no” while the rest of the country, with few exceptions, backed the amendments. The Kurdish Peace and Democracy party (BDP) also demonstrated its ability to control a large part of its constituency in south-east Turkey. The BDP had called for a boycott of the referendum, and in some areas turnout dropped as low as 7 per cent, while the national average was 77 per cent.

But perhaps the most significant change brought by the referendum campaign is the greater visibility brought to the objective of EU membership. The “yes” campaign made reference to the EU to convince Turkish public opinion of the package’s benefits. And today’s statement by the European Commission welcoming the adoption of the package underscored the growing interest of the EU in Turkey’s domestic dynamics.

In its role as a watchdog of democratic principles in candidate countries, the EU should now closely monitor the implementation of the reform package. Brussels should not shy away from commending the government for its democracy-friendly vision. But it should also be willing to criticise Ankara if, on the back of his electoral success, Mr Erdogan starts to steer the country, as the opposition fears, towards more authoritarian rule.