AKP faces first test without its ‘campaign brain’ Erol Olçok
Nuray Babacan - ANKARA
AA photoThe ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has been victorious in every election and referendum it has entered over the past 15 years, and one of the most important names responsible for this success was the late Erol Olçok, the brains behind the party’s election campaigns.
The April 16 referendum on shifting Turkey to an executive presidential system will be the first time that the AKP has organized a campaign without Olçok, who was killed together with his son Abdullah Tayyip Olçok after they took to the streets against the coup plotters during the July 15, 2016 coup attempt.
The party has formed an eight-member “strategy team” to explain its view of the constitutional package that includes the executive presidential system. This group has expanded to 20 people in some meetings, and has been divided into three as a “discourse group,” “strategy group” and “coordination group.”
Hours-long meetings have been held in Ankara and Istanbul, including meetings attended by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
The most important factor debated in these meetings is the high number of still undecided and confused voters in the last three polls. Among the 20 percent undecided voters, 8 percent are determined as classic AKP voters. Members of this group are dubbed “concerned conservatives,” and includes some who are concerned that the new system could have the unintended consequence of opening the way for a president who could create difficulties for conservatives in the future.
As part of the party’s attempt to address this, it is stressing that a grassroots effort should be conducted through “home visits” by local party members to persuade conservatives who are concerned that the changes would bring about a “one-man regime.”
Recent developments have also been discussed in the AKP campaign preparation meetings. Many of those taking part have suggested that it is a mistake to present those who say “No” in the referendum as if they are “together with terrorists.” The negative effect of recently discharging 330 academics from universities has also been mentioned.
Another aspect discussed was the low motivation of the party’s provincial organizations across the country. Unlike general elections, little enthusiasm has been able to be generated in the AKP’s provincial organizations yet. One party official said he spoke to a room of empty seats at one meeting; another said very few party members have actually read the text of the amendments.
The AKP is keen to take measures to prevent possible negative effects on the campaign of economic struggles and rising unemployment rates, and it is also planning to emphasize the “July 15” anti-coup spirit, stressing the importance of “stability” and a “strong Turkey.”
The party’s referendum campaign will officially kick-off will a gathering at the Ankara Arena on Feb. 25. In the 40-day campaign that will continue until voting on April 16, the strategy will be reviewed in line with polls conducted every 10 days.